Friday, June 20, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

Oh, such a lilting title for such a mesmerizing novel. I have been held rapt by Anthony Doerr all week.
 My heart fairly bursts from the beauty of his language, the worlds he builds for his characters to work within, the empathy he shows for even the most flawed.

It's odd that almost everything I'm reading this summer revolves around the world wars, wars with few survivors left to tell their stories. Yet each writer has focused on the small mercies, the great beauties unearthed from the ugliest of man's devising.


Doerr renders a stunningly evocative young woman in Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young Parisian girl with the heart of Ann Frank and the courage of Markus Zusak's Liesel Meminger. By the age of six, Marie-Laure's world may be darkened by blindness but that world is alight with her father's devotion. He will teach her to love books through braille, and assure that she can survive independently by her wits.

Paralleling Marie's childhood is that of a young German named Werner who lives with his sister Jutta in an underfunded orphanage. Werner is precocious enough to realize that by the age of fifteen he will be forced into working the mines that killed his father. The thought suffocates and paralyzes him. Refuge comes in the form of recruiters from the notorious Hitler Youth. Werner may not meet the physical requirements of the "wunderkind," but he has a knack for radio repair and construction, a talent much coveted by the Reichstag.

Doerr exquisitely evokes the insidious rise of the German war machine, not through the overwhelming horrors of death camps but with the seemingly innocuous little everyday evils that give your stomach a jolt, the questioning of one's accent, the second look at a Jewish name, or the teasing of a child who appears too bookish.

As the German forces bear down on Paris, Marie-Laure and her father, with the help of his employers at the Natural History Museum, flee to the walled city of St. Malo carrying a secret. Here Marie's uncle Etienne lives in shell-shocked agoraphobia, a victim of yet another war. But here, inspired by his courageous niece,  Etienne will discover new life and purpose behind a forbidden microphone, transmitting messages of hope that will be intercepted by a German boy, already questioning why he's in the Fuhrer's army. 

This is, without a doubt, the finest book I've read this summer. I want to peek into the heart of a man who can draw such beauty from so much tragic waste. I want to learn from the pen of a writer who can, with a few sentences, help me "see" what it is to be blind. If you read only one big, fat, historical novel this summer, do make it this one.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I just ordered a bunch of copies for us...