Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See

Basic plot: (from Goodreads) Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: This is a book about World War II, so there are violent scenes and some disturbing behavior.  That said, they were used to frame ethical questions: When do you keep your mouth shut and when do you risk your own well-being? How do you protect those you love? People are complicated, and their inner lives are far harder to untangle than we might think.  Doerr uses these questions to develop extraordinary characters.

Favorites: I loved that there was such affection for childhood curiosity, exploration, science, gentleness and authenticity throughout the book - and the difficulty in retaining those things as we grow up.  Marie-Laure's world, her impressions and perceptions, were vivid and terrific, and I'm glad that Doerr made Werner such a relatable and human character. The rich descriptions of cities and landscapes were sweeping and cinematographic, and added tremendously to the book as a whole.

Memories from reading: This turned out to be a book I read while traveling, so most of my memories are in the airport at my gate, in my seat as we (turbulently) landed, and while visiting family - snuggled under the covers as snow fell on Boston again and again.

Weapon of Choice: Borrowed from the library, read on my Kindle.

Other titles by this author:
The Shell Collector: Stories
Memory Wall
About Grace
Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Have you read anything by Anthony Doerr? How do you feel about books that take place during war?

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