It’s fairly certain All the Light We Cannot See is going to be on the 2014 list of favorite books for a lot of us. It has many of the elements I enjoy in a novel — a World War II background with a specific setting in occupied France; a heart-tugging story; and human emotions that rise above war and adversity.
This is the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide as both try to survive the war’s devastation. 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. She goes blind at age six, and her father builds a miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home.
When Marie-Laure is 12 years old, the Nazis occupy Paris. She and her father flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo where the girl’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. Her father carries with them what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
Werner grew up an orphan in a German mining town with his younger sister. He finds a crude radio and is enchanted by it, becoming an expert at building and fixing this and other crucial new instruments. It’s a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then an assignment to track the resistance. As he becomes 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.
The author deftly interweaves the lives of the two young people, illuminating the ways, against all odds, they and others try to be good to one another. The reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors are dazzling.”
The book was 10 years in the writing and this proven writer has again produced a book that’s moving, fulfilling and rewarding.
Awards won by Doerr include the 2010 Story Prize for Memory Wall, New York Times Notable Book, an American Library Association Book of the Year and the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize. His book reviews have appeared in several publications and he is currently the writer-in-residence for the state of Idaho.