All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Any book that wins the Pulitzer Prize must be deserving of a read and this book is no exception. A tale of war, family and a jewel, it follows two main characters: Marie-Laure from Paris, France and Werner from Zollverein, Germany. Set in the Second World War and beginning with the bombing of Saint-Malo by the Allies, the narrative skips between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner as well as from event to event in their lives, both in the past, present and future, detailing the experiences that shape the people who they become.

There is no doubt that Anthony Doerr is a beautiful writer; lyrical and evocative. The stories of the two characters are compelling with a wispy air of the fantastical permeating the text with the introduction of the myth of a jewel, miniature model towns and stories floating across countries, juxtaposed with the Nazis’ militant need to acquire the most beautiful items of art and their suppression of the world as they conquer it.

Doerr’s descriptions of the relationships that Marie-Laure and Werner have in their life help to create a picture of them as people. Marie-Laure has a father who is dedicated to ensuring that she lives a life with independence despite her lack of sight and her time in Saint-Malo with her great-uncle gives us a vivid picture of the efforts of the French to fight with stealth. Werner has a close relationship with his sister, Jutta and develops a friendship with a boy called Frederick at “Nazi school”, where brutality and the cultivation of it in its pupils is where the curriculum is centred. I had a really clear sense of the characters and their lives and I think that Doerr shows us two young people who are a product of the world in which they find themselves living, both striving to survive in a time when they could both easily perish. The book flits about a lot with short chapters and sometimes, I found it a bit choppy and it inhibited a fluid reading of the book for me a little but this is a minor criticism.

There is much warmth and humanity in this book as well as the vulgarity and harshness of war and for Werner especially, there is a sense that in another time, he would be a very different person.

A good story, well told.

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