"“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” - Anthony Doerr
The past few weeks I have had the absolute pleasure of reading All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I've read a fair share of war novels over the years. As a genre, I feel like I have to be in a certain 'mood' for them, because inevitably, they promise to be heartbreaking one way or another. I began reading this novel while in an indifferent mood. As you may have read in a previous post, my reading this year hasn't been great and upon deciding to dive straight back into it again this month, I primarily picked up this book as it was conveniently available at my local library. Upon noticing that it won the Pulitzer Prize last year, I thought I'd be mad not to give it a shot, and it delivered beyond my expectations.
All the Light we Cannot See centers on the lives of two children during World War Two; one, a blind French girl by the name of Marie-Laure Leblanc, the other, an orphan German boy called Werner Pfenning who is chosen to attend a Nazi military academy and apply his impressive engineering skills. The book alternates between the characters each chapter, while also flashing forwards and back in time. I'm not usually a fan of this type of narrative construction, but Doerr is a master of his craft, knowing when and where to use the time changes to create heightened suspense while also maintaining a perfect balance between the two characters so readers don't lose interest in one character over the other.
We often hear about war heroes, and the sacrifices they made, but what I really loved about this novel is that it's rather interested in the otherwise unknown histories of ordinary civilians and most of all, children. What's so impactful about it, and also most devastating, is that readers witness Marie and Werner struggle to maintain their childlike wonder and awe and to really own their lives amidst the chaos and complexities of man made devastation and destruction. Marie loves to read as Werner loves science, a passion instilled within him as a child when he would listen in secret to radio broadcasts about the mysteries of the universe. In the end, it is these passions that ultimately bring the two together and in doing so, Doerr speaks of the invaluable importance of education, the power of the written word and of an inquisitive mind. The story of Marie and Werner touched me in such a profound way that they haunted my mind long after reading the final page. I felt inspired by Mairie's unfaltering determination and struck by what Werner could have been, what he could have brought to the world with his talents; what all those fallen who fought for their country could have done to make the world a better place.
Anthony Doerr's writing style itself is illuminating. All the Light We cannot See is unforgettable. If there's one thing you read this year, make sure it's this. 5/5