In my earlier Library Loot posting, I mentioned Alan Furst’s Night Soldiers novels has sparked my interest in the Nazi occupation of France. So, when Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel All the Light We Cannot See, a novel that is mostly set in France during World War II, I guess it’s easy to understand why I might be interested in reading it. No long ago I put a reserve on Doerr’s award-winning novel at my public library and waited my turn. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long and before I knew it, I was reading a copy of All the Light We Cannot See. Barely into the novel I could easily see why it was so well received. Even though it’s just February I have a feeling All the Light We Cannot See will be on my year-end best of list.
The book follows the lives of two young people over a decade. In France, Marie-Laure must deal with going blind at the age of six. With her mother deceased, she’s raised by her loving father, a talented lock keeper employed by the Natural History Museum. After France surrenders, the two of them flee to the coastal village of Saint-Malo to live with her great-uncle. Psychologically damaged by the horrific trench battles of World War I and refusing to leave his castle-like home, he nevertheless shelters Marie-Laure and her father and along with his maid take a liking to the young blind girl.
Meanwhile, in Germany young Werner and his sister spend their days in an orphanage, abandoned after their father was killed in a mining accident. Despite his high level of intelligence, he’s fated to work in the mines once he turns 15. But his life changes the day he’s able to repair, and later modify a crystal radio. (For those of you who don’t know, a crystal radio is a simple radio with few components and no power source but can still receive strong signals.) Eventually, his talents in the fields of electronics and mathematics are recognized by a German officer who sends him away to a military academy. With the Soviets pushing the Germans back along the Eastern Front and the Wehrmacht hungry for men, before long Werner find himself serving in the signal corp, first in Ukraine and then in France. It is France his life comes to intersect with that of Marie-Laure’s.
This is a wonderful novel and worthy of all the praise it received. Beautifully written and featuring memorable characters, the novel never once ceased to hold my interest. I thoroughly enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See. Please consider it highly recommended.