Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June Book of the Month: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

One of my 2015 resolutions was to read at least one good book each month, and blog about it.  I chose the novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction by an American author, as my June book of the month.

It was the first full-length book I've read on my Kindle Fire HD 7 e-reader (and more) -- a most generous gift I received from my son Tim and daughter-in-law Carrie.  It was followed by yet another gift of a free year of Amazon Prime.  I love its portability, the digital bookmarks, and the well-lit screen. The text is easily readable, even with my tired old eyes and early stage cataracts.   And the calculator fills the entire screen, making it almost impossible to "fat finger" when entering numbers.

But enough about my gadget!  Back to the book!

The book is a gripping account of the lives of a host of brilliantly-crafted characters whose lives were indelibly impacted by World War II.  And yet, it is not really a war story or a love story.

There are two parallel stories.  One is centered around the life of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who is raised by her widowed father.  Her father is kind and generous, but insists that Marie-Laure learn to be independent and resourceful despite her disability.  He works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris which, in the novel, houses a rare and mysterious Sea of Flames diamond.  According to legend, the gem bears both a blessing and a curse.   He is also a talented wood carver, who carves clever wooden puzzles and entire model neighborhoods -- sort of a 3D Braille map, which allows Marie-Laure to memorize the shapes and locations of buildings and sewer drains, which she counts as she walks the streets of Paris (and later Saint-Malo) with her white cane.

The second story chronicles the life of two orphaned German siblings, Werner and his sister Jutta.  They live in a poor coal mining town. On one of their outdoor adventures, Werner discovers a discarded radio which he cleverly repairs, allowing the children to listen to a children's science program broadcast from France.  This sparks Werner's interest in science, and his skill in repairing radios along with his extraordinary proficiency in math and calculus, earns him a place in a boys' academy, and later a respected position in the German army.

In short paragraphs, we are given glimpses into the lives of a number of strong, well-developed characters who seemed very "real" to this reader.  Each character suffers some excruciatingly painful hardships during the war.  Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee Paris with the priceless diamond.  They move in with her great-uncle, the brother of the scientist who broadcast the children's science program heard by Werner and Jutta as children,

Both Marie-Laure and Werner find themselves in Saint-Malo during the German occupation and the Allied "liberation" of the city near the end of World War II.  And so, the parallel stories each veer off course and eventually collide.  What happens next?  I won't spoil the ending for you.  You'll have to read it for yourself -- or wait until it is made into a movie.  And it will be!  Fox Searchlight Pictures has the movie rights, and  Scott Rudin and Eli Bush of Scott Rudin Productions  are set to produce a film version of this compelling story.

There are some instances of unspeakable violence, cruelty, and suffering.  And yet, this is not a dark novel.  Through its strong characters, the novel celebrates ingenuity, perseverance, bravery, loyalty, and the resilience of the human spirit.   For those who survive, life goes on.   A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (to paraphrase John 1:5).

I rated this 5 stars in my Goodreads network.  If I hadn't used my Kindle, I'd call it a page turner.



  1. I saw this book listed on another blog today but not sure I will read it. A little out of my genre preferences. Maybe I will wait for the movie.

  2. I'm so happy for you to have some free time to able to read... I was on the beach for last week and even then could not find a time to read... it is shame on me actually :(