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All the Light We Cannot See review

I picked up Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” on a whim in a Parisian airport, hoping for a distraction for the long flight ahead. This book did not disappoint—I didn’t put it down the entire 10-hour flight! Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly beautiful novel emotionally yet realistically depicts the World War II experiences of two children—a blind Parisian girl and a prodigious German orphan boy.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc, daughter of the talented head locksmith at the Museum of Natural History, loses her vision at six years old. She spends the remainder of her childhood reading novels in Braille, studying mollusks and navigating the streets of Paris with the help of a miniature wooden model of the city built by her adoring father.

Marie-Laure and her father flee to the coastal city of Saint-Malo when the Germans occupy Paris, taking with them a 133-carat diamond. It is either the museum’s most valuable stone—the Sea of Flames—or one of three identical replicas. Ancient legends say that this highly-coveted diamond can protect its owner from death but brings disaster to his or her loved ones.

Werner Pfennig is a pure-hearted, white-haired boy who lives with his sister in a German orphanage overseen by an old French nun. Werner’s future is seemingly spelled out for him as the German government requires that boys from his region work in the area’s coal-mines after a certain age. However, Werner has something that the other boys don’t—an unprecedented talent with electrical circuits. His understanding of radios attracts government attention. After several years, Werner is given a special assignment by the Nazi Reich to track Resistance fighters by their airwave communications. This assignment takes him to Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure is playing her own role in the demise of the Nazis. With an unexpected, yet realistic ending, one cannot help but feel a heart-wrenching empathy for all those who were helplessly drawn into the war.

My heart ached for both Marie-Laure and Werner for different reasons. The unthinkable realities of World War II are illuminated through the eyes of its children, and Doerr’s writing style evokes just the right amount of pragmatic poignancy. Formatted in short chapters, it’s an easy read, and I cannot speak enough in favor of Doerr’s lyrical, magical and honest prose that kept me from sleep on a 10-hour red eye flight. An example of historical fiction at its finest, “All The Light We Cannot See” is an absolute must-read.