Monday, August 18, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I loved this book.  It is a World War II book, but with a completely different angle.  The book flips back and forth from 1934 to 1944 - with a few chapters at the end years later (which was very satisfying I might add - to see what happened in the long term).  It also changes perspectives, from that of Marie-Laure, a blind girl living with her father in an apartment in Paris, to Werner, an orphaned boy in a small coal mining town in Germany.

Marie-Laure's father is the master of thousands of locks at Paris' Museum of Natural History.  When his daughter loses her sight, he builds her a scale model of their neighbourhood in Paris, complete with every building, storm drain, and lamp post, so that she may learn her way around.  She also learns her way around the Museum and becomes very comfortable amongst its artifacts.  When the Nazis are about to invade Paris, Marie-Laure's father is entrusted with what may be a very valuable diamond from the museum's collection and he is asked to leave the city and keep it safe.  It only might be the diamond as the original and three replicas are spread throughout France and no one is told which is the real one.  They flee to live with Marie-Laure's great uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo in Brittany.  Etienne has not left the house in years as he is suffering from PTSD from the first world war, which also killed Marie-Laure's grandfather.

Meanwhile, Werner is a young dreamer who wants nothing more to escape the fate of all the boys in his town - to work in the mines that killed his father as soon as he turns 15.  He finds an old radio and takes it apart so he can put it back together again.  When it works he and his sister pull in broadcasts from all over the continent including science lessons intended for children that fascinate him.  Werner becomes well known for his skills in repairing radios, eventually repairing one for the town's most senior Nazi official who helps him get placed at a Nazi training school for boys.  Werner survives the experience by immersing himself in the science lab where he must design radio tracking devices for the war effort.  However, he is emotionally scarred and disillusioned, especially when his weaker bunkmate is beaten by the brutal children.  At 16 he is forced to join the war effort to track partisans, eventually finding himself in Saint Melo where he crosses paths with Marie-Laure and discovers the source of the radio broadcasts he so enjoyed in childhood.

I don't want to give too much away but we learn the fates of both Werner and Marie-Laure, as well as her father, his sister, Etienne and many friends and colleagues they meet along the way.  The humanity which survives in such inhumane times is fascinating.

I highly recommend this book.

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