Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

I know I haven’t posted anything in a very long time, but I have been busy reading over the past several months and I have about 16 reviews that I need to complete and post at some point. Over the next few days, I will be posting various reviews to catch up. So let’s get right to it.

This read, All the Light We Cannot See, I finished quite awhile ago, so I will try to recount as best I can from memory.

Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Format: eBook

Pages: 544 pages

Publisher: Scribner

Publishing Year: 2014

2015 Reading Challenge: A Pulitzer Prize-winning book

All the Light We Cannot See follows the story of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German boy, Werner, whose paths eventually collide in occupied France during the end of World War II.

The book follows both of their lives which are very different but somehow both lead them to the same destination. Marie-Laure learns to navigate being blind, while Werner grows up as an orphan and then finds a place in the brutal academy for Hitler Youth.

By a series of circumstances, Marie-Laure and Werner end up in the walled citadel by the sea, Saint-Malo, France, right before allied forces attack the city.

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War is a bazaar where lives are traded like any other commodity: chocolate or bullets or parachute silk.” – Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

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The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build us for a world full of light?” – Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

I know a lot of people may not be happy about this review, but I am giving this a book 3.5 out of 5. Give me a minute to explain…

Many of my friends recommended this read to me and said that it was one of the best books that they had read in years. And there has been alot of hype around it. Plus I love historical fiction. Therefore I went into reading this book with very high expectations. And I finished the book kind of disappointed. I was just expecting more. There were areas of the book that dragged on for me.

Usually I know that I love a book when I can’t put it down, where I’m captivated from start to finish. This book didn’t immediately grab me. It took me alittle while to see where it was going. Finally I grabbed on to it, and understood a bit of the magic.

At 530 pages, it is a monster to read, and it did feel a bit daunting to read in the beginning. The descriptive images and language that Doerr uses is on one hand beautiful and haunting, and on the other hand confusing and sometimes caused me to reread certain parts to fully understand.

Definitely do not read this book if you are looking for a lighter, playful read that you can easily get into and finish feeling satisfied. You need to dedicate some time to reading this book to full understand all of the metaphors and language. And this is definitely not a fairytale. Doerr is very realistic with his storytelling and it can be difficult to read at times.

The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters, mostly Werner and Marie-Laure. So you start to notice immediately that the storylines will intertwine eventually at some point. Therein lies my one main issue with the book, was that it took quite a while to reach that intertwine moment and when it happened, it wasn’t as great as I was hyping it up to be in my mind.

I want to finish with the things I loved about the book.

I think that Anthony Doerr painted a very accurate picture of life in Germany before and during World War II. Normally you read books about other countries during the war, but you don’t read much about the lives of Germans during that time and how difficult it was for them to join a war and a cause that they may not agree with.

You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.” ― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

In particular the brainwashing of children that happened at quite an early age in order to create obedient soldiers.

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But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” ― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

I feel like maybe if I read this book a second time, I may begin to pick out certain metaphors a bit better and fully appreciate Doerr’s beautiful language. And not to discount this book, because it is a great read, but I wouldn’t list as my favourite book of 2015.

This may contain spoilers, so please do not read ahead if you haven’t read the book:

One last thing…

I didn’t feel a resolution by the end of the book. On one hand I understood why Doerr ended the book the way that he did. But it made me upset and emotional and angry for the way he ended things for certain characters. It made me question why certain characters were given one ending over another.

I know life is cruel, especially during war, and people can’t always get the happy ending that they want. But I wanted the happy ending for all the characters in this book because they had all already been through so much throughout their lives.

But maybe that’s what Doerr is trying to say. That various people touch our lives in different ways and demonstrate bits of “light” to help others have their happy ending.

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” ― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

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One thought on “Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Girl with a Pearl Earring | Tea and a Good Read

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