Saturday, May 30, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Wrapping up World War II week at my house is All the Light We Cannot See, the book Novel Conversations will be discussing on Monday. This book is the story of two children, one French and one German. Marie-Laure is a blind child who goes to work every day with her father, the head locksmith at the National History Museum in Paris. Her father has constructed a tiny model of the city to help his daughter find her way around the neighborhood. When the Allies begin bombing Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee to his uncle's home in Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure feels entirely cut off from the world. Her uncle, damaged from his experiences in World War I, never leaves the house and her father is preoccupied with matters she does not understand (and he soon disappears), so she finds herself under the wing of the housekeeper, who eventually becomes involved in the Resistance.

Meanwhile, Werner and his sister Jutta live in a German orphanage. He faces a life consigned to the coal mines, but then his gift for building and repairing radios brings him to the attention of officials, who send him to a military training school with a brutal regimen. He eventually ends up in Saint-Malo looking for a radio that has been sending messages from the Resistance. Werner and Marie-Laure's lives briefly but significantly cross, and the two then go on to their own fates. 

Marie-Laure and Werner are well-drawn characters, and the book's depictions of their war time experiences are grueling--yet somehow Doerr didn't quite succeed in making me care very much about them. And it isn't just me--two other members of Novel Conversations shared a similar response with me. In addition, there is an entire subplot about a huge blue diamond that; while it seems Doerr intends the diamond and the myths surrounding it to be symbolic of something, this subplot left me completely cold. All the Light We Cannot See recently won the Pulitzer, so obviously those in the know disagree with me, but overall I found the book a disappointment.

Favorite passage:
When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?

It's embarrassingly plain how inadequate language is.

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