Wednesday, April 6, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See; Anthony Doerr

Simon & Schuster Audio - 2014
(read by Zach Appelman)

“Somewhere, someone is figuring out how to push back the hood of grief, but Marie-Laure cannot. Not yet. The truth is that she is a disabled girl with no home and no parents.” 


I'm not a fan of war stories but, because this one won the Pulitzer I knew I wanted to give it a try.  The novel covers a period of about ten years (1934-1944) and for the most part involves two characters, Marie-Laure is a  French girl who became blind at the age of six of a degenerative eye disease and Werner Pfenning is German who grew up in an orphanage with his sister Jutta.  

Marie-Laure's father is the head locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. He cares deeply for his sightless daughter and wants her life to be as normal as possible so he constructs a mini village out of wood of the neighborhood where they live so that she can practice navigating the village until she has it comfortably memorized.  She loves visiting the museum where her father works and hearing stories about all the strange and wonderful things housed there.  The museum is home to a rare gem which is said to be cursed bringing misfortune whomever possesses it. 

Werner Pfenning was just a young boy at the orphanage when he developed a talent for electronics and radio repair. His skill to fix most anything gets him enrolled into Hitler's Army tracking the resistance.  After a bombing in Saint-Malo on the coast Brittany, Werner and Marie-Laure's lives converge. She's now a teenager who is hiding in the attic of her great uncle's house. The uncle is hiding a secret which could endanger their lives. 

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, which initially was a little confusing on audio, but fortunately the chapters are short even though the book itself is long (over 500 pages). The writing is beautifully done and many of the scenes and phrases left their mark with me. The book's title and references to "light and darkness" are emphasized throughout the story.  The author does a terrific job describing what Marie-Laure was thinking, feeling and imagining as a blind girl.  It was also fascinating learning about the brainwashing Hitler's recruits experienced and how Werner reacted.

All the Light We Cannot See is story of family, friendship, courage and loyalty told from the POV who those who lived through the horrors of war. A gripping and emotionally charged story that was both absorbing and haunting.The audio version was excellent.

4.5/5 stars
(library audio book)

33 comments:

  1. So many people have loved this one. I bought it and will make time for it one of these days!

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    1. It was hard to get used to on audio (the changes in time period) but the reader was great.

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  2. I agree with Kathy; I'd like to read this as well. Excellent review, Diane!

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  3. I liked this one very very much. Very emotional.

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  4. I've checked this out of the library twice and didn't get to it either time. So many readers have loved it and I do want to read it... maybe I'll try the audio. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    1. As I mentioned above -It was hard to get used to on audio (the changes in time period) but the reader was great.

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  5. My neighbor really loved this book too. I've added it to my list, but I don't know when I'll get to it.

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  6. I read this in July 2014 and gave it a perfect 5/5 rating. It was the best book I read that year and I hope to listen to the audio someday. I can imagine how it was confusing at first, with the flashbacks and alternating POVs, so I'm glad I already know the storyline. I'm so glad you like it! Now you need to read City of Thieves by David Benioff.

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    1. Thanks for the City of Thieves suggestion Les. I am glad u enjoyed this one so much!

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  7. I read and discussed this in two of my reading groups. I thought I was tired of reading novels set during World War II but Anthony Doerr rose above it all. Here is my review: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2014/10/all-light-we-cannot-see.html

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  8. Every one I know who has read this book has said it was first-rate. I actually bought this when it first came out and have been putting off reading it. Sometimes I postpone a book that I know will be very good because I don't want it to be over. I have not read the third book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy yet. I loved the first two so much, I hate for it to end. A peculiar foible. But with your post about the book, I know I'll be getting to it soon.

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    1. Funny Judith - I read the first 2 of the Larsson series close together and waited several years for the last one as well...LOL

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  9. I haven't yet read this one. I keep hearing wonderful things about it. While I'm not in a hurry to get to it, I would like to read it someday.

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    1. It would be a great book to discuss in a group Wendy.

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  10. I read this, too, and and wasn't as impressed as as you were. Because ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE won a Pulitzer Prize and because this book has so many great reviews, I expected too much.

    First understand, I do not claim that this book is bad, only overrated. It is not a five-star book, which a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book should be.

    More than 400 pages of this book are snippets of information about the lives of the blind French girl and German boy-electronics-wiz, given in alternating chapters, in alternating years. This all seemed to be building up to something. As a result, I wondered for 400 pages how their lives will interact and what is the significance of a diamond. That's a big buildup. Then they finally come together for, what, a day? That's it. Then we're back to the snippets. Then the snippets skip decades. And that's it.

    My other disappointments were all the skippable paragraphs. Many authors have this problem. They seem to be too in love with their writing. I compare it to a woman who is so in love with her beauty she wastes hours gazing at herself in the mirror.

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    1. This one was overly long - I agree. I did like this but read it because of the hype and Award. Not 5 star quality but, I did love the writing more than how the story played out.

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  11. I tagged so many passages in this book - so many beautiful and thoughtful passages.

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    1. I did love the writing but it was way too long IMO.

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  12. I purchased this book a month ago online and it's high on my tbr list. I hope i'll enjoy it as much as you did!

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    1. I hope so Melinda - I liked the audio but it was hard to get used to at first.

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  13. Loved this book.I even bought it rather than borrow it.

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  14. I know this is a very popular book Diane. 800 people turned up for a book sighting at a book signing in a high school last night, so I heard from my son today. Great book review. Thank you :)

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  15. That really sounds most interesting! Have a terrific weekend.

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  16. I have wanted to read this book for a while and just haven't got to it. Hopefully this year!

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  17. I didn't love this one but it was a good discussion book and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

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  18. I listened to this one and ended up liking it a lot. It was a book club read and, as Ti said, made for a good discussion.

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  19. Yes. I liked this one too. I'll never forget how Marie felt the barnacles on the wall -- and the fear of the German entering her house near the end. Visceral storytelling!

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  20. I've enjoyed some od Doerr's other work but so far I haven't felt compelled to pick this one up even though everyone seems to love it.

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