A city under siege. A blind French girl. A trapped German boy. War, treasures, radio, nature, and unconditional love. Human suffering and misery, and human elation and kindness. Mix all these and place then smack dab in the middle of World War II and you have Anthony Doerr’s beautiful story All The Light We Can Not See.
The story focuses on two main characters, Marie Laure, a French girl that at a young age loses her site. And Werner, a young Austrian with an engineers mind and a passion for radios. As war disrupts both their lives, they lose ones they love, suffer the want and despair of wartime, and eventually end up in the same town as it is bombed by American planes.
There is also another fascinating story line mixed into the plot. During WWII, the Germans looted the great museums of Europe, along with the artworks, jewels, and fine furniture of anyone they wanted really.
At the start of this tale, Marie Laure’s father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The museum has thousands of locks, and he is the master of all of them. He also designs intricate locks for priceless pieces, one of which is the Sea of Flames, a pear shaped blue diamond with the legend of a curse on it. This diamond, and it’s curse, torment some of the key characters throughout the book, including a German officer with a terminal illness that is hellbent on finding it.
As war drives Marie Laure and her father out of Paris, they are forced to take up residence with family in the seaside town Saint Malo on the Brittany coast of France. There they live with Marie Laure’s uncle Etienne, a traumatized man that has carried ghosts with him from the first World War. The relationship between Marie Laure and her uncle is a memorable one, sweet and healing.
Werner, in the meantime, has grown up an orphan in Austria, in a mining town that supplies the raw materials needed to build Hitler’s war machine. At 15, all young boys in the town are forced into labor in the mines, but due to Werner’s self taught abilities with radio technology, and a lucky break, he ends up not facing that life, but perhaps something far worse. The friendships he makes along his journey are touching and heartbreaking at the same time. In wartime, though, there is a lot of heartbreak.
This novel by Anthony Doerr was wonderfully researched, and provides such vivid detail that you will undoubtedly see the world that surrounds Marie Laure (which she can not see), and Werner–with such clarity that you feel the angst, pain, and happiness they feel.
It’s also educational, teaching us about what the Germans did during World War II, and how other countries in Europe coped with the occupation.
All The Light We Can Not See is an imaginative, beautiful, heartbreaking story, and very much worth the read.
image courtesy of anthonydoerr.com