“What do we call visible light? We call it color.
But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in
one direction and infinity in the other,
so really, children, mathematically,
all of light is invisible.”
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is haunting, the imagery and descriptions are vivid, and the characters unique. Whether you love history or human introspection, you’ll find that this story is one you’ll linger amid in-between reads.
Set in World War II, a blind girl from Paris and a young Nazi soldier are primarily the focus with intermittent secondary characters picking up or seamlessly interjecting in a non-linear, character-driven novel so you feel you’ve come to know and understand the characters and the context of their upbringing and culture.
Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who is both intuitive and innocent, flees Paris with her father to Saint-Malo to live with her great-uncle and his housekeeper. Parallel to her story is that of Werner, a German orphan who is exceptionally smart, and ends up leaving his sister to join Hitler Youth Academy.
Compelled by the story and so totally wrapped up in the characters, I found myself stunned and oftentimes in tears halfway through the book at the atrocities of war. I braced myself for an unhappy ending, and while it was anything other than fairy-tale like, it was as if nothing else could have been. In other words, I felt mildly sad as opposed to box of tissues sad. You’ll be angered at the injustices of Nazi Germany and their regime, but at the same time, you’ll be warmed by the love and courage of the seemingly insignificant. It is the insignificant who become heroes.
My favorite characters, including Marie-Laure’s father, great-uncle, and housekeeper– Madame Manec– kept me rooting for the resistance against the Nazi regime. I found myself wondering about France prior to WWII, enraptured by their seemingly small and routine lives in Saint-Malo. Then, the way Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives crossed was believable and even redemptive.
Beautiful stories don’t always have neatly wrapped endings, though those are the ones that most-often stick with you long after the story is over. Because this book is so intricately written and well deserved of every award won, I pulled some of my favorite quotes so you can get a taste for Doerr’s writing style (and if you are one of the few left not to have read this book, go get it!).
“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”
“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.
It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”
“His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”
“She walks like a ballerina in dance slippers, her feet as articulate as hands, a little vessel of grace moving out into the fog.”
“Open your eyes, the Frenchman on the radio used to say, and see what you can with them before they close forever.”