REVIEW: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Genre: Historical Fiction

Published: May 6, 2014, Scribner

My copy: Hardcover (borrowed from my mom)

Summary: 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. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and 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.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times). [Goodreads]


For some reason I’ve been reading a lot of books about WWII this year. I suspect it’s because that’s what we’re focusing on in English, bit it doesn’t really matter. It’s always interesting to me, reading all these different accounts of the same time. All the Light We Cannot See focuses on Marie-Laure and Werner, two very different characters with different stories, which is probably the main reason I loved it so much.

Now, I know what you’re saying. I pretty much love 90% of the books I read, but is that a bad thing? Not for me, at least. This book is so complex and intricately woven that I wanted to read it only when I could give it my full attention, which is why it took me over a week to finish it (also it’s 530 pages). Not only does the focus jump in between many characters, but the time changes often and over the span of many years. The book is much easier to read in one long sitting, however the time changes kept me going and intrigued throughout the novel. That, and the characters. Marie-Laure is so much more than just a blind girl, she’s brave and loving and smart, while Werner is lonely, misunderstood and a naturally gifted engineer who has no choice to join the Hitler Youth and be a part of the war. I truly love these character, probably because of how greatly they were written and how detailed and emotional their stories were. One of the things that really interested me throughout the story is the plot line about the Sea of Flames, a diamond that creates many problems for Marie-Laure and her father.

“A real diamond is never perfect.”

You should probably read this book. It can be dark at times, but it tells such a different perspective on events that we all think we know about.

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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