Saturday, August 15, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Pages: 530
Rating: PG-13 (There is a little bit of language from soldiers, and a group of girls gets raped by Russian soldiers near the end, but the description is very vague)

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 she 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.
My Thoughts: I can't say that this book was life-changing, but it was definitely very interesting and enjoyable to read and it gave me a lot to think about. I felt like the author really knew each of his characters and what they were going through. Sometimes the descriptions of things were confusing and I wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about. I will say that I loved that this is a work of historical fiction that seems as if every sentence could have been fact. I sometimes lost sight of the fact that this was a work of fiction and I wanted to tell people about it as if Werner and Marie-Laure actually lived.

The book is organized into very short, 2-3 page chapters that go back and forth between Marie-Laure's and Werner's perspectives, with an occasional interruption from another minor character. This I liked because it made the book easy to read in quick spurts. The book ALSO jumps back and forth in time. There will be several chapters in a row about the end of the war, and then several chapters in a row about Werner and Marie-Laure's childhood. I didn't feel like this was confusing, however. I kind of liked it.

I think my favorite part of this book was the perspectives it showed. I've read a lot of World War 2 books, both fiction and non-fiction and most of the time, the books I've read focused on those who ended up stuck in Germany's horrific concentration camps. This book tells the story of a young boy forced into service in the German military, and a young, blind, French girl dealing with the occupation of her country. I particularly liked Werner's story. Although fiction, it resonated with truth. Werner is happy that his skill with radios saves him from working in his town mines and allows him to attend an elite school for German youth. However, this school is not without its brutality and cruelty, as the boys are taught to hate any sign of weakness in anyone, even their own countrymen, and to believe wholeheartedly in the superiority of the Aryan race.

When Werner is finally sent to war, his skills with the radio again save him from any real fighting, as he is on a task force that travels through Germany's conquered countries and tracks down any illegal radio transmissions. Whenever they find anyone with an illegal radio that they are using to broadcast information, they kill them. Werner voices his discomfort about this, since he has been taught that these people are all ruthless terrorists and highly organized criminals, but all he ever sees are simple people in simple dwellings. I just loved that this book portrayed the fact that war is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, no matter which side you are on. Not all Germans were bad. Not all German soldiers believed in what they were fighting for.

The ending of this book was sad, and surprising. I didn't think it was going to end in the way it did. But I feel like it was very realistic. War devastates countries and lives, and you just do the best you can to keep moving, to keep living and I felt like that's what the ending of this book portrayed. I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in history.