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Book review: “And There Was Light”

“And There Was Light” is the luminous autobiography by Jacques Lusseyran, a blind hero of the French Resistance movement during World War II. When Lusseyran was eight years old, he lost his eyes in a tragic accident. But what he lost in physical sight, he gained in inner experience.   

Lusseyran grew more sensitive to the vibrations of objects around him. He developed the special ability to read people’s voices beyond their words, detecting anger, deceit, hypocrisy, etc. from the sound of their voice. Lusseyran also had a heightened sense of smell and could recognize things like anger, frustration, humiliation and confusion by scent. 

Lusseyran and his parents fought for him to be put back in school with the other students instead of going to special schools for the blind despite societal resistance.

One of the most riveting parts of the book was the description of his friendship with a boy named Jean.  Their bond was so strong that they felt they could communicate telepathically and the thought of separating from each other in the future “was like thinking about death.” 

Unfortunately, World War II began, and the Germans invaded France. Lusseyran got a new history teacher at school who taught the students with conviction, passion and intelligence. He challenged the students’ sense of morality about fighting back against the Germans.

Lusseyran became fed up with the lethargy of the French people in the wake of Germany’s occupation of France. He began discussing with a few of his classmates about resisting the Germans. He sent out invitations for a preliminary meeting and, to his surprise, 52 boys showed up. They called themselves the Volunteers of Liberty.

The resistance group had to screen the new recruits because of the abundance of German spies in France. Lusseyran screened them by reading their voices as he asked them random questions to see if they were hiding anything. 

The resistance movement set out to destroy the defeatism and apathy, which had infected the French people. Their main weapon was information, not arms. The Germans had taken over all news and media outlets in France, so all the news was biased or fake. They secretly printed and distributed anti-propaganda bulletins and newspapers. The newspapers contained information and visual proof of what the Nazis were doing, like the concentration camps, mass graves and extermination of the Jews.

Unfortunately, Lusseyran and several of his companions in the resistance got arrested. Lusseyran was interrogated for a few months before he was finally taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp. After a painful near-death experience, Lusseyran became a beacon of hope, light and joy to his fellow inmates at the concentration camp. A few months after, he and the other prisoners were released.

The book was a fascinating read. It’s like ‘Daredevil’ came to life. It shows how a teenager, despite having a permanent disability, could still fight for peace and justice because he was guided by light and joy. It will challenge readers to live a deeper, more passionate life.