This is the story of a blind French girl and a mathematically inclined German boy in World War II occupied France, and it is one of the most beautifully written and memorable novels that I’ve read in a long time.
I heard about it through Library Reads, it was one of the top ten picks for May. I have found some terrific books through this list of librarian favorites, and I urge you to check it out.
Marie Laure goes blind when she’s six years old. She lives with her father in Paris near the museum where he is a locksmith. He builds her a minature village to scale of their neighborhood and teaches her to navigate on her own. But when the Germans invade Paris, they flee to Saint-Malo to stay with Marie Laure’s uncle, who is a severe agoraphobic. He has a multi-story home on the sea that he shares with a housekeeper/caretaker.
Meanwhile Werner is a 14 year old boy living with his sister in an orphanage in Germany. He is selected to test for engineering school, where he excels. But school under the Third Reich is difficult for Werner. His best friend is a gentle soul and he knows nothing good can come of that in the land of Hitler Youth. Werner is eventually sent out to hunt down illegal transmitters, and that is how he spends the last few years of his childhood, and the war.
Marie Laure is growing up, and grows very close to both the housekeeper and her uncle. When her father goes missing, they care for her. Eventually Saint-Malo becomes a closed city, and life is very difficult for those still living there. Food, even water, are scarce and freedom becomes a thing of the past.
Werner’s and Marie Laure’s stories ebb and flow, moving back and forth in time and place until inevitably they meet. The war is their backdrop, but the book, surprisingly, is about the kindness people can show one another, even in extraodinarily difficult times.
Reading groups will love this as universal themes of love, war, deception, loyalty, impairments and more will offer great fodder for discussion. Most of the chapters are extremely short, and even though it is a highly descriptive novel, the story moves and is quite gripping, I couldn’t put it down.
All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books so far this year.
6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. Scribner; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014). ISBN 978-1476746586. 544p.