April 3, 2015

“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Scribner
Pages: 531 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary (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.

Thoughts on All the Light We Cannot See
Blogging has introduced me to so many new books, but it has proved limiting in some ways. Before I blogged, I rarely knew anything about the book in my hand beyond the cover, summary and words inside. Now, there are a million opinions floating around in my mind... and Goodreads is just a click away. I have to resist the temptation to reject a book simply for its average rating! But every now and then, a book makes its way to my shelves without any preconceived expectations.

That was originally the case with All the Light We Cannot See. I walked into Books-a-Million one day on my lunch break, spotted this absolutely stunning book on the New Release display and sat down to read a few pages. Within minutes, I was at the check out and bringing this book home with me. It had just come out the day before, and I hadn't heard anything about it. The cover was gorgeous, the summary was right up my alley and the writing seemed like it had the potential to make this book a favorite. But then... I didn't read it right away. I thought about reading it, but I never did. By the time I finally read it, almost a year had passed. I'd read rave reviews from friends and saw it was a Goodreads Winner. It went from being purchased on a whim to one of the most highly recommended books on my shelves!

Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, the master of the locks at the Museum of Natural History. She loses her sight when she's six, and her father builds her a tiny model of their neighborhood so that she can learn to navigate on her own. When she's twelve, the Nazis invade and Marie-Laure and her father must flee to Saint-Malo to live with their reclusive great-uncle in his house of many secrets by the sea. Hundreds of miles away, in a mining in Germany, the orphan Werner and his sister discover a radio. It unlocks something inside Werner, and he soon becomes an expert at building and repairing radios. His newfound talent helps him earn entry to an academy for Hitler Youth, as well as a special assignment that takes him into the heart of the war. And ultimately to Saint-Malo...

I have no idea why it took me so long to pick it up, but I think I always knew I was meant to read this book. It was love at first sight, and I could only hope that the story inside would live up to my expectations. I read the first few pages with trepidation - would the hype ruin it for me? But within a few chapters, the world around me faded away. I was with Werner in Germany and Marie-Laure in France. I experience their fear, celebrated their moments of joy and saw the world changing around them. Anthony Doerr is a masterful storyteller and an incredible writer, and All the Light We Cannot See quickly became a forever favorite for me.

The book is written in a non-linear format - alternating between the years leading up to August 1944 and a specific few days within that month. I absolutely loved this format! For me, the shifting time period created a sense of apprehension and anticipation. How did Werner and Marie-Laure get to that point in time? What would happen to them from that point forward? All the Light We Cannot See appears to be a "quiet" novel, but it's almost deceptive that way.

There is so much depth to this story and these characters. Werner and Marie-Laure are such fascinating and compelling characters. Even the secondary characters, like Madame and Frederick, are people I will never forget! I anxiously waited for Werner and Marie-Laure's paths to cross, but I soaked in every minute I spent with them. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the way it explores the way people fight injustice and the way people compromise their integrity. In many ways, it helped me understand the environment in Germany leading up to (and during) World War II better. It made me think about the way "ordinary" people can commit unspeakable acts against one another - and how they get to that point.

Marie-Laure's father builds puzzles - treasures hiding inside his complicated creations. And I think that might be how I'd describe All the Light We Cannot See. There is such a treasure inside these pages! While the story may seem complicated, it's truthfully so accessible. I devoured all 500 pages in two days - and only stopped because I had to go to bed. I cannot say enough in praise of this book. It's worth reading for Doerr's attention to detail alone! But when you add in the complex characters and a fascinating story? GOODNESS GRACIOUS.

There's a storyline about a precious gem in this book, so it seems fitting to tell you that I didn't realize I had a jewel sitting on my bookshelves unread. The cover may be gorgeous, but the story inside is even better. I read to discover books like All the Light We Cannot See! I'd highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to fans of historical fiction. Doerr will transport you with his words, and you'll be all the better for the journey.

So Quotable
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

4 comments:

  1. THIS MAKES ME SO HAPPY!! You already know my Thoughts (yes, with a capital T!) on this one and I've seriously lost track of the number of coworkers and friends I've pushed it on. It's one of those novels that completely captures you and I lost all sense of time and place while reading - my world was war-torn Europe.

    I think some people might be a bit intimidated by the sheer size of this book which breaks my heart. Anthony said in an interview that he knows he's very wordy and descriptive, so he intentionally left a lot of white space/made a point of writing short chapters. Seriously, for a book this length, it reads surprisingly quick!

    I will say though, that the ending caught me off-guard. I completely expected it to turn out one way and when it didn't I was pleasantly surprised...although pleasant might not be the right word. Bittersweet? Can you be bittersweetly surprised?

    I said it yesterday, but I'm saying it again: I'm so, so glad you decided to read this one, H. It's not just one of my favorites from 2014, but it's become an all-time favorite. It's that good.

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  2. I've been doing virtual reader's advisory a lot and have recommended this one to fans of historical fiction even though I hadn't read it. BUT after reading your review this sounds absolutely fantastic so I may well check it out myself. Thank you!

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  3. I'm so glad I decided to go ahead and buy All the Light We Cannot See after we talked about it! I've been curious about it since I first spotted it on a bookstore shelf, but wasn't sure still if I really wanted to read it. Your review, however, has convinced me that it's the kind of book that I will really be able to immerse myself in - and I love that. Can't wait to read this one!

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  4. I've been wanting to read about this one since before it came out, and your reviews is only making me want to read it more! Of course, who knows when that will actually happen, but hopefully it eventually does!

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