All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Historical Era: WWII

Historical Rating: History Rich – based on the events that transpired between the German and Allied forces in Saint-Malo, France.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Book Jacket Summary: “Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works. 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, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Marie-Laure and Werner, from warring countries, both having lost many people they loved, come together in Saint-Malo, as Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. ”

HFA Review: There is a reason this book won the Pulitzer Prize…it is a work of literary art. One of the features I think puts this story above its contemporaries is the way the story is organized, the flow of the timeline and how it shifts between the two main characters. That’s, of course, above and beyond the beautiful words sewn together in manner that lead the LA Times to state, “whose sentences never fail to thrill.” I wholeheartedly agree.

The book switches back and forth, by chapter, between Marie-Laure, a French citizen, and Werner, a German orphan. Marie-Laure’s story centers around her daily struggles with being a blind person and how those struggles take on new meaning when fleeing Paris to live in Saint-Malo under German rule with a distant relative she’s never met in a strange new home and city she will have to learn to navigate. All this while trying to hang tight to the one bit of family she has left in the world, her father, who carries, potentially, a rare gem from the Natural History museum where he worked. This puts a bit of a target on their back. At the same time, in a German mining town, Werner finds himself becoming the Third Reich’s favorite radioman; the opportunity is both a blessing and a curse, as the alternative to service means spending his life working in the coalmines. Something his gifted mind can’t fathom doing, but serving means leaving his sister behind. Another thing he can’t imagine doing. The deeper Werner gets into the life of the Reich, the more conflicted he feels about what they are trying to accomplish and how they are trying to accomplish it. Survival and doing the right thing become distinctly pitted against one another, a terrible dilemma for a young man to face and one that slowly starts to wreak havoc with his mind and heart.

Between the distinctive characters and the complex story lines for each character, author Anthony Doerr already had the recipe for an amazing story. Then he took it a step further by manipulating the timeline in a manner that took the anticipation of each story’s climax to even higher levels. The peak of each story takes place in August of 1944. The stories start in 1934 and slowly progress through the war years, but the events in 1944 are strategically woven throughout the story in a manner that is truly brilliant and a scheme I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see copied by other authors in future publications. Every time the author would give another glimpse of the events transpiring in August of 1944, two things would happen. First, it would give insight into the events taking place further back in the timeline where the rest of the story was currently progressing through and make the suspense that much stronger. Second, it would leave off with enough of a cliff hanger and purposely unanswered questions that I found myself flying through the small chapters (another feature I LOVE and am happy to see other authors using in their books) in order to see how the events in the current timeline (prior to 1944) were going to lead up to the events of 1944, as well as reading in order to get to the next 1944 section. Thus, the pace never slowed and I never once lost interest. I would only put the book down because I HAD to in order to sleep or take care of life tasks that can’t be ignored…like work.

Even if you are not a historical fiction or WWII fan, this book will not disappoint. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for Hardcover books for 130 weeks straight. Yep, it’s that good.

Historical Content: I did debate between rating this A Good Dose and History Rich. The reason for this debate is due to the fact the majority of the characters and many of the events are made up. At the same time, they are heavily based on the real events that took place during the war, such a rules for occupied territories enforced by the Germans, and events that took place specifically in Saint-Malo between the Germans and Allied forces. In the end, based on what I know about WWII from troop movement to the life of citizens in Europe during the war (from my own extensive research), I feel Mr. Doerr does paint quite an accurate picture of life during WWII for his characters and uses enough real events/information that it squeezed into the History Rich category in my eyes. Though, I would completely understand arguments for the A Good Dose placement. Good news, either way, it doesn’t matter because the book is a wonderful journey to be enjoyed no matter how much is fiction or non-fiction.

Publisher: Scribner, 2014

Pages: 530

This book can be purchased through Amazon or Barnes and Noble as well as other retailers.

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