I am a big fan of historical fiction and nonfiction. Especially anything connected with WWII. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book Thief. (Both fiction.) The Hiding Place, The Diary of a Young Girl, Schindler’s List. (All nonfiction.) I’ve read them all at one point or another. And loved them all. So I am always on the search for another historical masterpiece to delve into.
All The Light We Cannot See fit that description perfectly.
This book, this wonderfully detailed, immaculate book, offers no fluff, pulls no punches, and doesn’t hedge any of the harsh realities of Hitler’s Nazi regime. It does nothing to soften the stark, barefaced reality of war and all of the horrors connected with it, both for the occupied countries and the German people. And yet, in the middle of the horror, the atrocity of what was happening around them—there was still light. Still good. Still hope.
Anthony Doerr does an incredible job of finding that light without excusing the hideous crime that was WWII.
The book has two main protagonists. Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager living in occupied Paris, and Warner, a German soldier, part of the Wehrmacht. A radio specialist, tracking down illegal radios manned by the underground. He has a head for numbers, a mind for wires and tubes.
And Marie-Laure has a radio.
Her father, a French curator for the Paris Museum of Natural History, flees Paris when the Germans occupy it, taking with him his blind daughter and a very special stone. A gem that has a history of bring bad luck to the man who carries it.
And bad luck follows them both.
First, her father returns to Paris—and does not come back, leaving Marie-Laure with her uncle, a man unhinged by PTSD and memories of another war. While he is gone, Marie-Laure and her uncle’s housekeeper begin to assist the underground, relaying messages through a secret radio in her uncle’s attic. The messages they send, the radio, and a bombing raid on the town of Saint-Malo, where they live, will pull Marie-Laure and Warner onto the same path and leave a lasting impression on both of them.
This book takes a very close look at the heart of man, the difference between a mind preoccupied by cruelty and one obsessed with self-preservation. It delves into Warner’s past particularly, painting a picture of a boy forced to be a man too early, and one who only ever wanted to stay alive. I think it displays very well that not every soldier in Hitler’s army was a monster. Some were only afraid.
If you are interested in WWII, or just looking for a good, solid novel to pick up, I would highly recommend this one. It’s not a romance or a light read, but it will make you think. You won’t forget it in a hurry.
How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?