Friday, July 31, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse monthly book review--All the Light We Cannot See

I'm joining in the monthly book discussion over at The Cephalopod Coffeehouse and sharing a review of my favorite read for the month of July.

The best book I read this month, and probably so far this year, was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

This is the story of a young blind girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a German orphan named Werner that takes place during WW2. Marie-Laure is the daughter of a locksmith and curator from the Paris museum of natural history, and she and her father have fled to the walled city of St Malo, which is occupied by German forces, to wait out the war with her reclusive great-uncle, an emotionally fragile veteran of WW1. Marie's father builds her small models of all the buildings and houses of San Malo, and then teaches her to navigate the city streets so that she can have a measure of independence.

Werner and his little sister, Jutta, are living in an orphanage at the beginning of the book. Their father was killed in a coal mining accident, and all the boys in that area expect to grow up and work in the mines. Werner is small for his age and somewhat frail, but he's brilliant and has a special aptitude for working with radios and transmitters. When a German officer who lives nearby hears of his ability to repair radios, he sends for him to fix one. He's so impressed with the boy's work that he gives Werner a recommendation to go a Nazi military training school. Werner is totally unsuitable for military training, and the school is full of horrors, but his brilliance and aptitude for engineering is recognized immediately and developed for the Third Reich's war machine.

Each chapter is short and switches between the point of view of Marie, Werner, and a German officer who's obsessed with finding a valuable jewel that has been smuggled out if the Paris museum along with other national treasures to keep them safe from the Germans. Marie's father and two other men all left Paris with real and two fakes, and no one knows who got the real one.  The officer is slowly hunting down the real one, which Marie's father has.

It's quickly apparent that Werner and Marie-Laure are destined to cross paths. Their stories are told with such poignancy that it will break your heart. The writing is beautiful, but the plot is quite sad. As in real life, there are very few happily ever afters during wartime.

Normally when I think of WW2 I think of the suffering of the Jewish people and of the horrors they had to endure, but until I read this book I never considered how terrible the war was for other people, too. The boys forced to fight for the Nazis, the townspeople in San Malo, the allied soldiers, even ordinary German citizens just trying to survive during wartime.....what a terrible, terrible thing war is. What a waste.

This book will stay with me for a long, long time. The beautiful, heartbreaking humanity of it makes it worthy of the Pulitzer prize it received. 5 stars.


  1. I've heard of this book and would like to read it. People also tend to focus on the destruction caused in Japan by the atomic bombs, but fire bombing destroyed more than one city. Of course, the English suffered horribly.


  2. I've also heard of this book. It's on my wish list even though I know it will make me sad.

  3. Sounds like fun. WW2 seems likely to be a source of inspiration for authors and filmmakers for generations to come.

    1. Well, it was a beautiful book, and I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't describe it as fun. It was too sad for that!

  4. A good friend was born just outside St Malo, and during the war was sent to live in England. He stayed there until he retired a few years back, and has now returned to France. For a Frenchman, he speaks very little French, but at least he wasn't bombed!

  5. I've read other reviews, but yours reminded me of the book. I'll read it later this summer when I'm back home in Montana. You're correct; there are few happy endings in war.

  6. Bought this book and started it awhile ago, but eye and brain problems stopped me from finishing it.
    I have it sitting on my table so I will remember to start it again.
    Have heard only great things about the book.
    Terrific review.

    cheers, parsnip

  7. What a great review. I'm going to look for it now. Thank you.