Their Stories Kindle Too
On my numerous travels to different bookstores, there are just times that I simply cannot resist the urge to buy books that I am barely familiar with. Such random purchases led me to great works that I would have never encountered had I been very conservative of my choices. Sometimes, I just end up buying books for no particular reason at all. This was the case when I purchased Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.
The thing that first struck me about All The Light We Cannot See is its interesting book cover. My curiosity was piqued even more when I learned that it was a New York Times bestseller and that it was a National Book Award finalist. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. I included it on my 2017 Top 20 Books to Read and thankfully I got to read it before the year draws to a close.
Unintentionally, my reading year has been saturated by numerous historical novels. Through no particular fault of mine, I have ended up with books that involve the Second World War like Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay and Maeve Binchy’s Light A Penny Candle. It seems that I won’t be having any reprieve from this recurring theme. Nonetheless, I find nothing wrong with this. Instead, I am more interested in the story that is yet again to unfold before me.
The novel revolves around the French Marie-Laure and the German Werner. The two characters grew up in different circumstances as Marie-Laure grew up with her father while Werner grew up in the orphanage together with his sister, Jutta. The story follows the individual journey of the two main characters as they both get displaced due to the Second World War.
Both Werner and Jutta were raised in an orphanage; their parents perished in a mining accident. One day, they discovered a radio which they used to listen to any broadcasts or signals that reach their area. It was the sibling’s connection to the world. By tinkling with this radio, Werner has gained an important skill that would be seminal in bringing him outside of the orphanage. With his fear of becoming a miner and suffering the same fate as his parents, Werner decided to attend the National Political Institute during the war. This was despite his sister’s protests.
Marie-Laure, on the other hand, got blinded when she encountered the infamous jewel, Sea of Flames. As a result, she had to get used to being blind. To get her used to her blindness, Marie-Laure’s father created a miniature of their neighborhood but just as she was about to memorize her neighborhood, war broke out which pushed her and her father to move to her agoraphobic uncle Etienne’s home in Saint-Malo.
Werner and Marie-Laure’s adventures in wartime Germany and France made them encounter other characters who played significant roles in the story. Among them are Volkheimer, Frederick, Madame Manec, and Sergeant Major von Rumpel. Werner met Volkheimer and Frederick in the institute while Marie-Laure met Madame Manec. Etienne’s caretaker. But the most significant of these characters is Sergeant Major von Rumpel who made it his personal vendetta to track down the accursed Sea of Flames.
But what exactly is the Sea of Flames? It is an accursed gem that is kept at the Museum where Marie-Laure’s father works. It is said that the bearer of the gem will not die but those people surrounding the bearer will suffer misfortunes. Due to its alleged magical power, a lot of people tried to possess it. Because of this, the museum did its best to keep it from those who want to possess it for their personal gains. This gave an air of mystery to the story because the reader is to guess who possesses it.
I initially didn’t like the book. It felt very mundane at first but then a great realization hit me that made me think highly of this work. The more I delve into the story, the more I appreciated it. By having two teenage characters, Anthony Doerr is conveying to us the untold stories of the children who died and suffered because of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power. Doerr, through his powerful writing, did a wonderful job of painting in hauntingly intricate details of both France and Germany during the war.
Primarily, the story was about the second world war and the abuses committed, especially of the Hitler Youth. In the institute where Werner studied, the weakest were being weeded out and eliminated one by one. The mantra that only the “strongest will survive” is being sternly embedded in the minds of the students. The weakest ones were pushed beyond their limits until they eventually quit, a resonating portrayal of how the Fuhrer slowly eliminated his enemies.
The biggest issue I had with the book was the manner in which the story was conveyed. Doerr told Werner and Marie-Laure’s story in alternating chapters comprised of short dialogues and paragraphs. Instead of complimenting the story, this style instead muddled and confused the story. It left me reeling after every chapter because I was forced to shift to another perspective. It would have worked had the transitions been more seamless. I understand that it was meant to make the story more straightforward but it only slowed down my pace. Every now and then, I had to jump back to prior chapters in order for me to refresh my memory. I’ve had my fair share of stories effectively told in the same manner but in Doerr’s case, it was just overkill.
Nonetheless, I have to commend Anthony Doerr for doing a magnificent job in All The Light We Cannot See. The way he described things and events in detail, both candid and intricate, was just impeccable. Save for the manner the story was told and the interjection of the Sea of Flames, the book was great. Doerr’s powerful prose takes the reader through a haunting experience of the war that plucks the proverbial strings of the heart. The story makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you get shocked, makes you angry, but in the end, you’ll fall in love with the book. And that, at the end of the day was what was important.
Recommended for those who love reading stories about the world war. It seems that every reader loves stories about children, and this is not an exception.
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publishing Date: 2014
Number of Pages: 530
Genre: Historical, Romance
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 the Nazis occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo. 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. His talent for building and fixing these crucial new instruments wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. That leads him to Saint-Malo where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
About the Author
Anthony Doerr was born on October 27, 1973, and was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended University School and graduated in 1991. Majoring in history, he graduated in 1995 from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He also earned a Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
In 2002, Doerr published his first book, The Shell Collector which is a collection of short stories taking place in Africa and New Zealand. About Grace, published in 2004, was his first novel. This was followed by two more books Four Seasons in Rome (2007), a memoir, and Memory Wall (2010), another short story collection. However, it was his second novel, All The Light We Cannot See that gained him international recognition. Published in 2014, it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize and the 2015 Ohioana Library Association Book Award for Fiction. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and was a runner-up for the 2015 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction. The book earned Doerr his second shortlisting for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. Doerr’s third and latest novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land was published in 2021. For his works, Doerr also won the O. Henry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the Rome Prize, and the Story Prize.
Doerr is currently writing a column on science books for The Boston Globe. He is also a contributor to the online magazine The Morning News. Doerr is currently residing in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons.