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Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Fourth Estate (10 December 2015)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Price: Rs. 467 on Amazon
Pages: 544

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. I bought the book almost immediately, but only got to reading it last month. I only started reading historical fiction a few years ago and today it is one of my most favorite genres. I have read so many books on WWII and it definitely is a period that has some heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories. All The Light We Cannot See is no less.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a six year old blind girl living in Paris with her father who works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. Her father has built her a scale model of their neighborhood and surroundings to help her visualize them in her mind. Thanks to this, Marie-Laure is independent and can go about her tasks with minimal assistance. She loves to read and her father works hard to save money to get her books in braille. This is the year 1934. At the same time, in Germany, an eight year old boy, Werner lives in an orphanage with his younger sister Jutta. When he finds a broken radio, he fixes it and listens to science and music programs that is transmitted across Europe. Marie-Laure and Werner live separate lives and are not even aware of the existence of each other.

When France is invaded by Germany in 1940, Marie-Laure and her father seek refuge in the house of her great-uncle Etienne, a recluse and a survior of the Great War with severe PTSD. Marie-Laure's father, Daniel, carries something with him from the museum that a certain Sergeant Major seeks. The said something as a cursed gem called 'Sea Of Flames' and Daniel is asked to guard it with his life. When Daniel goes missing, leaving behind a scaled version of her recent surroundings, Marie-Laure is left alone with Etienne and soon they start a friendship. He shows her his collection of wireless transmitters and tells her how he used to broadcast his brother's old tapes across Europe. These are the lessons that Werner listened to at the orphanage. Now, Werner is chosen to be a part of the Hitler Youth and his skills with radios and transmitters earns him a place at the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, a boarding school teaching Nazi values.

When the Allied forces lay siege on the coastal town of Saint-Malo, the town where Marie-Laure is currently hidden, she hides in the room where Etienne keeps his radios. With the Sergeant Major having reached here in search of the 'Sea Of Flames', will Marie-Laure survive? What happens to Werner? Will he and Marie-Laure ever meet? Also, where is the 'Sea Of Flames' now?

It took me a while to get used to this book honestly, mainly because of the multiple timelines and the multiple point of views. Each chapter is pretty short and the story moves forward and backward with the right pace. But, once I got used to it, there was no looking back. The imagination that has gone behind this one is truly magnificent especially in the parts involving the blind Marie-Laure. Also, the parts that detailed Werner's education were brilliantly described and it evoked every possible kind of emotion. The narration is simple and fabulous. The multiple timelines can get confusing, but when you learn how to keep track, it works out clearly. Every backstory lays a premise for the emerging narrative, giving every piece in the plot the significance it deserves. Special mention to the characters of Madame Manec, the housekeeper of Etienne and Frau Elena, the caretaker of Werner's orphanage. These two women depict silent strength in their own way.

As a reader, you get totally consumed by the story of Marie-Laure and Werner. The last few chapters of the book are the best and you wouldn't want it to be any other way. Normally, books on WWII are usually based in and around Auschwitz and the atrocities of Hitler. Here, the primary focus is on the innocence of the people who are caught in a war. Having the story told from two young point of views was refreshing and realistic. Yes, it was done earlier before in 'The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas', but that focused more on the concentration camps of Auschwitz. This one has a thread of innocence and hope running throughout the book and it celebrates the strength of the human spirit in its truest form.

Verdict: If you are a fan of historical fiction, you have to read this.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

I read this book as part of the #TBRChallenge2020 for prompt 19 - A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years.


Linking up with Shalini for the #TBRChallenge2020.

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  1. I read this a few years ago and I loved it! I am gladTglad you liked it too! This has been one of my favourites! Reading your review refreshed my memory!

    1. This is such a beautiful book! I loved it.

  2. You know, I started reading this a couple of years ago and the multiple POV threw me off. But I remember liking the bits that I read. Time to give it another go.

  3. Oh this one sounds pretty good and am marking it on m TBR after your recco. Great review Soumya :-)

    1. Do read this Shalz, it is a beautiful book!


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