26 July 2014

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

One night, while immersed in my copy of Suite Francaise, my husband was surfing book titles on the internet.  Interrupting for a minute he asked whether or not I had heard of Doerr's book and started reading out reviews.  After a few absolutely glowing reports I was off the couch and placing an order.  How this captivating story escaped my notice, while working in a library for goodness sake, is beyond me.  In my defense, a copy came back yesterday and when checked in had nary a single hold so perhaps this is a word-of-mouth read creating what seems to be an ever-increasing fan base.  So it's my turn to share...

Set during World War II, Marie-Laure is a young freckle-faced girl in Paris who begins to lose her sight due to a degenerative disease and is blind by the age of six.  She sits under the table while her father works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History surrounded by fascinating artifacts, everything from feathers to whale skeletons.  Completely devoted to his child, her father has created a replica of their neighbourhood so Marie-Laure can learn to navigate her way to the shops by feel before making the journey in person.

Meanwhile, in an orphanage in Germany, young Werner fiddles with a broken radio.  He has a natural gift and curiosity when it comes to electronics and is excited when he can bring music and voices into his gloomy surroundings.  Late into the night, Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, listen to stories and music until the Nazis declare a ban on radios to reduce spy activity.  Brought to Herr Siedler's house to fix a broken radio so his wife can listen to her programs, Werner's abilities astound the Nazi official and he is quickly recommended to the National Political Institute of Education. To Werner, this represents an opportunity to escape the inevitable requirement to work in the mines once he turns fifteen; the same mine that took his father's life.

When the Germans and their bombs encroach ever closer to Paris, Marie-Laure's father is handed a package containing a massive diamond to take on his exodus to Saint-Malo.  He is told that four gems exist but only one is real and none of the bearers know whether they carry the fake or authentic 133-carat diamond called The Sea of Flames.  A curse associated with the gem claims that the person who holds it will never die but others around them will perish within a month - or so.  This lends a whimsical element to the book.  An ailing Nazi by the name of von Rumpel also knows of the curse and a frightening game of hide-and-seek ensues that will have the reader on the edge of their seat.

One of my favourite tension-relieving threads within the book is the Old Ladies' Resistance Club.  These women from the village may not be in uniform but they use their wiles to sabotage the Germans at every opportunity.  They write 'Free France' on paper money and paint stray dogs so they bear the French flag.  They bake secret codes into loaves of bread and employ other clever tactics...

'The women funnel a shipment of rayon to the wrong destination.  They intentionally misprint a train timetable.  Madame H√©brard, the postmistress, slides an important-looking letter from Berlin into her underpants, takes it home, and starts her evening fire with it.'

These brave ladies are the best-kept secret of the French Resistance and I cheered them on but back to more sobering thoughts...

Through terrifying episodes which push Marie-Laure and Werner to the absolute limit of their will to survive they finally cross paths in the latter part of the book.  They are both quite literally brought into the light that day from their different sets of circumstance.  But don't for one moment think that this is where things get sentimental.

There are many fascinating layers to explore within this novel and the storytelling is brilliant with a slight nod to Life is Beautiful and a wink to The Book Thief.  There is something here to please every reader from those interested in World War II fiction, intrigue, family sagas, and epic tales.  And I've only shared a snippet!

8 comments:

  1. I am leaping off the couch and placing an order! :)

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  2. You won't be sorry, Audrey! I'm just doing a bit of housework and the characters refuse to budge from my thoughts. And apologies for the goofs in grammar, I spied a couple of mistakes after I hit 'publish'. Par for the course, I'm afraid, but thanks for hanging in there!

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  3. And it's so beautifully written - marvelous prose. It's the best book I've read this year. So glad to see you excellent review.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it too, Aparatchick! Can't wait to see what Doerr publishes next!

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  4. I like this story so much. Thank you for the review. Somehow each WW story is unique and each one so intriguing. So much history, stories of survival. I never get tired of this subject.

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    1. I never do either, Mystica. Usually the books on my shelf about WWII centre on England's contribution but Doerr made me sympathize with characters from two different countries. A riveting read!

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  6. Very inspired historical fiction. It shows both sides with humanity; I think with truth as well. The method of going back and forth in time and place with the characters added interest. His style made it reasonably easy for you to know where and when you were most of the time. The longer I read the harder it was to put it down. A really good read. BUT I am glad I did not live in those places at this time.

    Marlene
    Top rated Real Estate Lake LBJ

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