All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is such a beautifully written novel that I was sad when it ended. It is an intimate story that follows the stories of a number of people in France and Germany whose lives are intertwined and impacted by World War II. Many war stories focus on strong soldiers and epic battles. However, this novel is about those who are small and weak and young.
One main character is a young blind French girl named Marie-Laure who lives in Paris with her widower father. Marie-Laure’s father works at a museum whose greatest treasure is a fabled diamond named The Sea Of Flames. Legend is that whoever possesses this jewel will be immortal, but that all the people that person loves will meet tragic ends.
Marie-Doerr is only 12 when World War II begins, and it becomes obvious that the Germans will soon take Paris and steal anything of value. To save The Sea Of Flames, the museum entrusts it to Marie-Laurie’s father, and the two of them flee Paris. This would be frightful and traumatic for any child, but is many times more so for a blind girl.
The title All The Light We Cannot See has a double meaning. In one sense, it refers to the fact that the blind girl must imagine the light of the world and create images in her mind. On a deeper level, the title refers to the inner light of a person’s soul and the moral strength that people can possess even when they may be physically weak. The characters in the book are people who possess such an inner light. It is a light that the hate-filled messages of the Nazi regime cannot extinguish.
One of the other main characters is a German boy named Werner who is also 12 when the war begins. He lives in an orphanage and is a near genius for working with radios, which was a new technology at the time. Despite being tiny and thin, his skill gets him accepted into an elite training academy. He is thrilled that he will be learning at such a prestigious school. However, he soon learns that the main goal of the school is to craft all the boys into good Nazi killing machines rather than in honing their scientific skills.
I will not give away much more of the plot other than to say it is complex and magnificent. Too often, war stories are written with people as stereotypes. In All The Light We Cannot See, the people are real. You cannot but help ask yourself, “what would I have done in that situation?”
All The Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer Prize, and we highly recommend it.