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All the Light We Cannot See

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Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

An alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here

531 pages, Hardcover

First published May 6, 2014

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About the author

Anthony Doerr is the author of six books, The Shell Collector , About Grace , Memory Wall , Four Seasons in Rome , All the Light We Cannot See , and Cloud Cuckoo Land . Doerr is a two-time National Book Award finalist, and his fiction has won five O. Henry Prizes and won a number of prizes including the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal. Become a fan on Facebook and stay up-to-date on his latest publications.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
November 10, 2022
4/20/15 - PULITZER WINNER for 2014
The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?
Marie Laure LeBlanc is a teen who had gone blind at age 6. She and her father, Daniel, fled Paris ahead of the German invasion, arriving in the ancient walled port city of Saint Malo in northwest France to stay with M-L’s great uncle, Etienne. His PTSD from WW I had kept him indoors for two decades. They bring with them a large and infamous diamond, to save it from the Nazis. Daniel had made a scale model of their neighborhood in Paris to help young Marie Laure learn her away around, and repeats the project in Saint Malo, which is eventually occupied by the German army.

Werner and Jutta Pfennig are raised in a German orphanage after their father is killed in the local mine. Werner has a gift for electronics, and is sent to a special school where, despite the many horrors of the experience, his talent is nurtured. He develops technology for locating radio sources, and is rushed into the Wehrmacht to apply his skill in the war. His assignment brings him to Saint Malo, where his path and Marie Laure’s intersect.

Anthony Doerr

There are three primary time streams here, 1944 as the Allies are assaulting the German-held town, 1940-44, as we follow the progress of Werner and Marie Laure to their intersection, and the 1930s. We see the boy and the girl as children, and are presented with mirrored events in their young lives that will define in large measure the years to follow. Werner and Jutta are mesmerized by a French radio broadcast, a respite from the anti-Semitic propaganda the government is broadcasting. The Professor in the French broadcast offers lectures on science, and inspires Werner to dream of a life beyond the orphanage.
Open your eyes, concluded the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.
As her father is the head locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Marie Laure has the run of the place. She spends a lot of time with a professor there, learning everything she can about shells, mollusks and snails.
Dr. Geffard teaches her the names of shells--Lambis lambis, Cypraea moneta, Lophiotoma acuta--and lets her feel the spines and apertures and whorls of each in turn. He explains the branches of marine evolution and the sequences of the geologic periods; on her best days, she glimpses the limitless span of millennia behind her: millions of years, tens of millions of years.
Both Werner and Marie Laure are enriched by teachers and books as they grow. No nuclear families here. Marie Laure’s mother died in childbirth. The Pfennig children lost their remaining parent when father was killed in the mine.

The author, in a video on his site, talks about the three pieces of inspiration that provided the superstructure for the novel. While 80 feet below ground in a NYC subway, a fellow passenger was griping about the loss of cell service. Doerr appreciates the beautiful miracle that is modern communications. At the start of the book I wanted to try to capture the magic of hearing the voice of a stranger in a little device in your home because for the history of humanity, that was a strange thing. I started with a boy trapped somewhere and a girl reading a story. A year later he was on a book tour in France and saw Saint Malo for the first time. Walking around this beautiful seaside town, a walled fortress, the beautiful channel, the green water of the channel breaking against the walls and I told my editor, “look how old this is. This medieval town’s so pretty.” He said, “actually, this town was almost entirely destroyed in 1944, by your country, by American bombs.” So I started researching a lot about the city of Saint Malo immediately and knew that was the setting. That was where the boy would be trapped, listening to the radio. The third piece arrived when Doerr learned that when the Germans invaded, the French hid not only their artistic treasures but their important natural history and gemological holdings as well.

The story is told primarily in alternating Marie Laure’s and Werner’s experiences. But there is a third stream as well, that of Sgt Major Reinhold von Rumpel, a gem appraiser drafted by the Reich to examine the jewels captured by the military and collect the best for a special collection. He becomes obsessed with finding the Sea of Flames, the near mythic diamond Daniel LeBlanc had hidden away. He is pretty much the prototypical evil Nazi, completely corrupt, greedy, cruel, as close to a stick-figure characterization as there is in the book. But his evil-doing provides the danger needed to move the story forward.

There may not be words sufficient to exclaim just how magnificent an accomplishment this book is. Amazing, spectacular, incredible, moving, engaging, emotional, gripping, celestial, soulful, and bloody fracking brilliant might give some indication. There is so much going on here. One can read it for the story alone and come away satisfied. But there is such amazing craft on display that the book rewards a closer reading. In addition to a deft application of mirroring in the experiences of Werner and Marie Laure, Doerr brings a poet’s sense of imagery and magic.

Marie-Laure’s sense of the world is filled with shell, snail, and mollusk experiences and references. Some are simple. During a time of intense stress, she must live like the snails, moment to moment, centimeter to centimeter. In a moment of hopeful reflection, these tiny wet beings straining calcium from the water and spinning it into polished dreams on their backs—it is enough. More than enough. You will find many more scattered about like you-know-what on a beach.
I knew early on that I wanted her to be interested in shells. I'm standing here at the ocean right now. I've always been so interested in both the visual beauty of mollusks and the tactile feel of them. As a kid, I collected them all the time. That really imbued both "The Shell Collector" and Marie with, Why does the natural world bother to be so beautiful? For me, that's really embodied in seashells. I knew early on that I wanted her to find a path to pursue her interest in shells. I think that fits — I hope that fits — with visual impairment, using your fingers to identify them and admire them. - from the Powell’s review
Werner’s snowy white hair alone might stand in for the entirety of the visible spectrum. (although it is described as “a color that is the absence of color.”) The dreaded prospect of being forced to work in the mines in a literally coal-black environment, the very antithesis of light, offers motivation for Werner to find another path, and coal itself offers a balance for that other form of carbon that drives Marie Laure’s father out of Paris, the one that embodies light. While black and white are often used in describing Werner’s environment, the broader spectrum figures large in his descriptions.
Werner liked to crouch in his dormer and imagine radio waves like mile-long harp strings, bending and vibrating over Zollverein, flying through forests, through cities, through walls. At midnight he and Jutta prowl the ionosphere, searching for that lavish, penetrating voice. When they find it, Werner feels as if he has been launched into a different existence, a secret place where great discoveries are possible, where an orphan from a coal town can solve some vital mystery hidden in the physical world.
A nice additional touch is Marie Laure’s reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It permeates the tale as her reading echoes events and tensions in the real world of the story.

Also avian imagery is a frequent, soulful presence. A particularly moving moment is when a damaged character is reminded of a long-lost friend (or maybe a long-remembered fear?) by the presence of a particular bird associated with that friend and the time when they knew each other.

There are substantive issues addressed in this National Book Award finalist. Moral choices must be made about how to respond when darkness seeks to extinguish the light. There are powerful instances in which different characters withdraw into their shells in response to evil, but others in which they rage against the night with their actions. Thoughtful characters question the morality of their actions, as dark-siders plunge into the moral abyss. Sometimes the plunge is steep and immediate, but for others it is made clear that innocence can be corrupted, bit by bit. The major characters, and a few of the secondary ones, are very well drawn. You will most definitely care what happens to them.

As for gripes, few and far between. There is a tendency at times to tell rather than show. Marie Laure may be too good. That’s about it. There are sure to be some who find this story too emotional. I am not among them.

Just as Werner perceives or imagines he perceives an invisible world of radiowaves, All the Light We Cannot See enriches the reader with a spectrum of imagery, of meaning, of feeling. You may need eyes to read the page, ears to hear if listening to an audio version, or sensitive, educated fingers to read a Braille volume (please tell me this book has been published in Braille), but the waves with which Doerr has constructed his masterwork will permeate your reading experience. They may not be entirely apparent to your senses the first time you read this book. They are there. Whether you see, hear or touch them, or miss them entirely, they are there, and they will fill you. All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling novel. When you read it, you will see.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, and FB pages

My review of Doerr's 2021 masterpiece, Cloud Cuckoo Land

Definitely check out Doerr’s site. And if you are wondering what he had in mind, specifically, with the title:
It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility. - from Doerr’s site
Interview by Jill Owens for Powell’s

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for free on Project Gutenberg

Here’s the wiki page for Saint Malo

An interesting article on the damage done to Saint Malo in the 1944 battle

A page on the surrender of Saint Malo, from the site World War II Today

Here is a nice, large panoramic shot of modern Saint Malo, far too wide to include here

Doerr adds a lot to our understanding of the book with his Notes and Highlights commentary here on GR

4/20/15 - Pulitzer prize winners were announced today, and All the Light shines brightest for fiction

6/27/15 - All the Light We Cannot See is awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

November 2018 = All the Light is among the semi-finalists for GR's Best of the Best Award

January, 2022- Netflix announces that All the Light is being made into a four-part series, starring Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie.
Profile Image for LeeAnne.
291 reviews210 followers
March 26, 2021
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

This book has haunting, beautiful prose. It's brimming with metaphors, painting gorgeous images. I didn't want it to end, but I couldn't put it down.

"In August 1944 the historic walled city of Saint-Malo, the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany, France was almost destroyed by fire....Of the 865 buildings within the walls, only 182 remained standing and all were damaged to some degree." -Philip Beck


Two Parallel Stories
Two parallel stories about two children during WWII, a young girl in France, a young boy in Germany.

Story 1. Nazi Germany,
In Nazi Germany, a young orphan boy named Werner lives in a sparse children’s home with his sister. He is exceptionally bright and curious with a knack for fixing electronics. After fixing an old radio he becomes spellbound by a nightly science program broadcast from France. His talents in math and science win him a coveted spot in a nightmarish Hitler Youth Academy. This is his only chance to escape from a grim, dead-end life working in the same deadly coal mines that killed his father so he enrolls in the school.

Story 2. Paris, France
In Paris, France a shy, freckled redhead named Marie-Laure is intuitive, clever, and sensitive. She lives with her locksmith father who works at a local museum. When she goes blind from a degenerative disease at the age of six, her father builds her a detailed miniature model of their neighborhood so she can memorize every street, building, and corner by tracing the model with her nimble fingers. When the Germans attack Paris, she and her father flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to live with a great-uncle who lives in a tall, storied house next to a sea wall.

What does the title mean?
The author explains in his own words: "The title is a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility." - Anthony Doerr

A damaged World War II bunker turret in Saint-Malo

Quote from page 509:
“A foot of steel looks as if it has been transformed into warm butter and gouged by the fingers of a child”

Photos of Saint-Malo with quotes from the first few pages of this book:

Quote from Page 3:
"At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. "Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town," they say. "Depart immediately to open country." The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars."

Quote from Page 11:
"Saint Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if there’s anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue. At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this."

Quote from Page 5:
"The Girl
In a corner of the city, inside a tall, narrow house at Number 4 rue Vauborel, on the sixth and highest floor, a sightless sixteen-year-old named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a low table covered entirely with a model. The model is a miniature of the city she kneels within, and contains scale replicas of the hundreds of houses and shops and hotels within its walls. There’s the cathedral with its perforated spire, and the bulky old Château de Saint-Malo, and row after row of sea-side mansions studded with chimneys. A slender wooden jetty arcs out from a beach called the Plage du Môle; a delicate, reticulated atrium vaults over the seafood market; minute benches, the smallest no larger than apple seeds, dot the tiny public squares.

Marie-Laure runs her fingertips along the centimeter-wide para-pet crowning the ramparts, drawing an uneven star shape around the entire model. She finds the opening atop the walls where four ceremonial cannons point to sea."

“Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.” -- All The Light We cannot See

Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,313 followers
December 11, 2022
This is a carefully constructed book which is bound to captivate a large audience and become very popular, and be blessed with many warm reviews - it was chosen by Goodreads members as the best historical fiction of 2014, and shortlisted for the National Book Award. There are multiple reasons for its success - but they are also the same reasons as to why I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.

Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See follows the parallel lives of two protagonists - Marie-Laure, a French girl and daughter of a master locksmith at the Natural History Museum in Paris; the other character is Werner Pfenning, a German boy growing up in the mining town of Zollverein. Their lives are drawn against the brewing conflict, which will soon engulf not only France and Germany, but most of the world - the second World War.

Both Marie and Werner are sympathetic character for whom the reader can root for - the author has made sure of that. Marie-Laure goes literally blind in the first or second chapter, and spends the beginning of the book becoming used to her new condition (mostly the help of her father, who designs elaborate puzzles for her to solve). Werner grows up in an industrial town hit by the depression, amidst the rise of the brownshirts; his only real companion is his sister, Jutta, and his only solace the radio - which Werner knows how to operate and fix instinctively, and to which they both listen at night.

The Nazis eventually come to power and invade France, forcing Marie-Laure and her father to flee to the northern coastal town of Saint-Malo, an ancient walled city which provides picturesque setting for much of the book. In Germany, Werner's skill with the radio catches the eye of a Nazi official who sends him to the breeding ground for Nazi youth, where he will be trained to become a member of the military and eventually sent to the front. At the same time, a much older Nazi official searches all over France for an almost mythical diamond all over France, and is dedicated to finding it.

Doerr's chapters are short and readable, and often contain pleasant nuggets of prose which was obviously carefully thought-out. To maintain suspense, he switches both between perspectives and time periods: various parts of the book are set in different years, mostly non-chronologically, and are comprised of chapters alternating between different characters.

The trouble with the book is that it's not very compelling, surprising, or illuminating. With Doerr's outline for the story - three characters, three different viewpoints - we know that their stories will eventually collide, but when they finally do it happens in a quick, unsatisfying way. Doerr's characters lack moral complexity which would make them properly engaging - Marie Laure spends most of the book in hiding, which is understandable, but which also stops her from being forced to make important moral and ethical choices regarding her own survival. Werner is even more troubling - while he is troubled by brutality he witnesses at the Nazi school, he seems resigned to it. Werner neither openly embraces Nazism, nor condemns it - he's indifferent to the whole experience and role he plays. It's as if Doerr never gave Werner the opportunity to grow up, choosing instead to preserve the young boy, fascinated by radio - which goes contrary to what boys and children in general experience in any war, which instantly strips them of their childhoods forever. The subplot featuring Von Rumpel, the old Nazi who searches for the mystical diamond seems to be attached to the rest of the book for no reason except to move the plot forward - there's no complexity to his character at all, and develops exactly as expected.

This is a book which looks as if it was designed to be read by younger readers - it's colorful setting, short chapters, switching points of narration will satisfy those with short attention spans, who require their story to be told quickly, engagingly, and not too demanding. I think all swearwords used in the book can be counted on the fingers of one hand; its language is very mellow and mild on obscenities. For a novel set during World War 2, it is a surprisingly tame book - murder and death cannot be escaped, but is downplayed as much as possible. One horrible instance of violence - which could have very well changed a character's perception on things - occurs essentially off screen, lowering possible impact it could have had on said character. This is World War 2, PG-13.

All The Light We Cannot See is a carefully crafted and constructed book, which for me remains its greatest flaw - I could never stop seeing the author's own hand behind the scenes, which made characters act out events in certain way, obviously planned well ahead. It's a fantasy world populated with unreal people, who engage in a fantasy war - and is bound to appeal to hundreds of readers, because this is what they want and appreciate. Popular for one season or two, but unlikely to be remembered in a decade or more.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,734 reviews1,469 followers
July 25, 2015
Why write a review if I am such an atypical reader?

I will keep this brief since I feel most readers will not react as I have, but isn’t it important that all views are voiced?

All readers must agree that the flipping back and forth between different time periods makes this book more confusing. I believe it must be said loudly and clearly that the current fascination with multiple threads and time shifts is only acceptable when they add something to the story, when employment of such improves the story. In this book they do not improve the story. Perhaps jumping from one scene to another can increase suspense, but must one also flip back and forth in time? In addition, more and more books are made for audios, and this is not helpful when you cannot flip back to see where you are. Finally, time switches unnecessarily lengthen the novel.

Secondly, be aware when you choose this book that the book is not only about WW2 but also a diamond that some of the characters, quite a few in fact, believe has magical powers. Those who possess the stone will not die, but people around that person will come to misfortune. This is all stated in one of the very first chapters; it is not a spoiler. This aspect of the book turns the story into a mystery novel. Where is the gem? Who has it? The result is that you have a heavy dose of fantasy woven into a book of historical fiction. I have trouble with both fantasy and mystery novels. Maybe you love them. (I would have preferred that the diamond was woven into the story as one of the objects stolen by the Nazis.)

Let's look at how the book portrays WW2. It is set primarily in Brittany, France, and Germany and a little bit in Russia and Vienna. Its primary focus is about what warfare does to people, not the leaders, but normal people. I liked that you saw into the heads and felt the emotions of both Germans and French. Some of the Germans are evil but you also come to understand how living in those times shaped you. To stand up against the Nazi regime was almost impossible. There are some who try. These events are gripping. You also get the feel of life in Brittany versus Paris. They are not the same. I enjoyed the feel of the air, the wind in my face and the salty tang on my lips in St. Malo. I do wonder to what extent my appreciation of Brittany as a place is more due to my own time there or the author's writing. Am I remembering my own experiences, or am I seeing it from the words of the author? I am unsure about this.

In any case, I was very disturbed by the blend of fantasy with gripping WW2 events.

The events of WW2 are those portrayed in every book. If you have read about WW2 in numerous other books of fiction or non-fiction you will not get much new. Rape by Russians felt like the author had to include this simply so it could be to be togged off his checklist. I do think the book moves the reader on an emotional level. You get terribly angry and shocked, and this is achieved through the author's writing, his excellent prose.

And this is what saves the book – its prose. The descriptions of things and places, the particular grip of a hand, movement of a body and what characters say. Very good writing. Beautiful writing. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you feel that wind on your skin or the touch of a shell against your fingertips or smile at the oh so recognizable words of a child. Children often see far more than adults, but they also talk in a clear, simple manner. What they say is to the point - could that diamond be thrown away? Of course not. As remarked by one of the French children, "Who is going to chuck into the Seine a stone worth several Eiffel Towers?" Even if the gem has dangerous powers!

People love reading about kids and one of them here is blind. Who wouldn't be moved by such!

The narration by Zach Appelman didn't add much, but neither did it terribly detract from the story. I appreciated how he read some lines with a beat, a rhythm which matched the cadence of the author's words. Pauses were well placed. French pronunciation was lacking.

Oh my, once I got going I told you what I felt. I believe this book will be popular, and many will like it, but it was just OK for me.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,084 reviews6,999 followers
March 7, 2017
This is a great book. Its very high ratings (4.3; half of the ratings are "5's") renews my faith that GR ratings count for something. With almost 50,000 reviews on GR I don’t feel there is a lot for me to add but here’s a brief summary of the plot and I’ll give a few examples of the great literary writing.

It’s just before the Nazi invasion and occupation of Paris. A young blind girl relies on her father for everything and she is his world as well. He spends all his time making her a wooden model of the city so she can get around alone with her white cane. In neighboring Germany, a young boy, who lives with his sister in an orphanage, starts fooling with crystal radios and becomes a crackerjack radio repairman enthralled by these voices coming over the air.


Her blindness and his fascination with these invisible waves give us a main theme of the book. “How he wishes he had eyes to see the ultraviolet, eyes to see the infrared, eyes to see the radio waves crowding the darkening sky.” “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” And late in the novel, her great uncle says to the blind girl, “We’ll go to Paris…I’ve never been. You can show it to me.”

The chapters of the book jump around in time -- 1934, 1944, 1940 -- so we know on occasion, for example, how a soldier will die even before the main character meets him. We have the brutal story of the boy’s education at a military school; the chaotic flight of the girl and her father from occupied Paris to distant relatives in St. Malo in Brittany; the military escapades of the boy as he works with a German unit identifying and killing resistance radio operators; the imprisonment of the girl’s father; the search for a missing jewel (because her father had been the locksmith at the natural history museum); the formation of a women’s resistance movement in St. Malo; a budding one-day romance between the French girl and the German boy. Letters from his sister back in Germany become the boy’s conscience after he enters military service.

Some of the beautiful writing:

“…leafless trees stand atop slag heaps like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld.”

“Marie-Laure looks up from her book and believes she can smell gasoline under the winds. As if a great river of machinery is streaming slowly, irrevocably, toward her.”

“And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.”

“His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”

[Of the occupying German soldiers, mostly boys] “Claude understands that he ought to resent them, but he admires their competence and manners, the clean efficiency with which they move. They always seem to be going somewhere and never doubt that it is the right place to be going. Something his own country has lacked.”


Of a group of women visiting: “They smell of stale bread, of stuffy living rooms crammed with dark titanic Breton furnishings.”

“Behind her, an over decorated flat reeks of dead apple blossoms, confusion, old age.”

A great book. I wish I had read it years ago.

Photo of Paris sunset from nyhabitat.com/blog
Photo of St. Malo from europeupclose.com
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews155k followers
June 12, 2021

No denying that this one is a big boi.

But was it worth all that paper?

Click the link for my video review of the big bois in my life.
The Written Review:Why are all prize winning books so depressing?

Do the Pulitzer Prize judges immediately disqualify fun books? Seriously, I don't think I've seen a happy one yet.
Don’t you want to be alive before you die?
We follow two storylines - one set in Germany focused on Werner Pfennig, an orphan, who's always dreamed of an education.

He finally gets an opportunity, through the brutal tutelage of the Nazis.

And we follow Marie-Laure, a french blind girl much beloved by her father, a locksmith of the Museum of Natural History.

She and her father flee occupied France to live with a reclusive uncle.
But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?
Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, her father carries a priceless gem (or one of the three replicas) that is rumored to grant everlasting life to its keeper but nothing but misery to all others around him.

Meanwhile Werner spends all his time in the Nazi army, chasing down enemy radio signals.

Just like the ones that Marie-Laure and her uncle send out to help the allies. Their paths draw ever closer...
You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. .
This one was an interesting story but not an engaging one. I couldn't connect to the characters and the plot seemed to stretch on forever without making much progress.

We spend so much time building to the ending for that moment to occur...only for everything to fizzle out. I feel like I wasted my time.

Also, it really bothers me when such tragedies are capitalized and twisted to fit some glorifying narrative.

It feels just a bit odd to turn truly horrifying events into something beautiful and poetical. I feel like there's a real danger to viewing events through rose tinted glasses.

Audiobook Comments
Read by Zach Appelman - it was alright. The voice was so monotone that listening became rather difficult at times.

The Finer Books Club 2018 Reading Challenge - A book you got from the free reading library

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
April 16, 2016
“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

I'm going to be honest - love for this book didn't hit me straight away. In fact, my first attempt to read it last year ended with me putting it aside and going to find something easier, lighter and less descriptive to read. I know - meh, what a quitter.

But this book is built on beautiful imagery. Both in the literal sense - the physical world of 1940s Paris/Germany - and the metaphorical. It's woven with scientific and philosophical references to light, to seeing and not seeing, and the differences between the two. It's a beautiful work of genius, but it does get a little dense at times; the prose bloated by details.

However, when we get into the meat of this WWII novel, it's also the harrowing story of a childhood torn apart by war. It's about Parisian Marie-Laure who has been blind since she was six years old, and a German orphan called Werner who finds himself at the centre of the Hitler Youth. Both of their stories are told with sensitivity and sympathy, each one forced down a path by their personal circumstances and by that destructive monster - war.

I think this is the kind of book you will never appreciate if you stop too soon - I learned that lesson. From the first to last page, there is a running theme of interconnectedness, of invisible lines running parallel to one another and sometimes, just sometimes, crossing in the strangest of ways. These two lives we are introduced to seem to be worlds apart, and yet they come together and influence one another. It was this, more than the predictably awful tale of war, that made me feel quite emotional.

All the Light We Cannot See is haunting. That's how I would describe it. From the chillingly beautiful prose, to the realization of what the title actually means: that underneath the surface of history, there is light - and stories - that have not been seen; that have gone untold. Scientifically, we only see a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; historically, we only see a small portion of the story.

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Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,202 followers
December 22, 2014
I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.

Anthony Doerr's astonishing new novel "All The Light We Cannot See" follows the complex arcs of two such invisible lines through the lives of Werner Pfennig, an orphan boy in pre-World War II Germany and Marie-Laure Leblanc, a blind girl living in Paris with her father. Through riveting flash forwards and flash backs, the novel charters the course of their lives as they struggle to find out wether it is possible to really own your life when it is swallowed by the black holes of history. One is driven by a deep love of science while the other is inhabited by the power of books. In the midst of the rise of German fascism and the birth of the French Resistance, how does youth manage to stay true to its essence?

A war story, a coming-of-age story, a philosophical fable, this is a novel that constantly oscillates between the moral uncertainties of life and the chiselled precision of the natural world that surrounds us. Between the political morass of war and the stupendous beauty of organisms, the ocean, the human brain.

The language is so fantastically precise - Anthony Doerr does things with verbs that make entire paragraphs sing - that the visual component of this book is quite astounding.

In the end, what this novel illuminates is the miraculous impact that seminal events have on the rest of our lives, whether it be the magic of radio broadcasts on the mysteries of science or the extraordinary adventures of Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea".

A deeply moving and enthralling work that echoes the power of early impressions on the building of a self, such as the philosopher Simon Critchley recently evoked so beautifully in a stunning essay published in The New York Times entitled "The Dangers of Certainty":

Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,533 followers
April 4, 2022
Honestly, wtf? I mean, we all know the blind person trope (Daredevil, etc) and the lovable Nazi trope (Hiroshima Mon Amour) and the mystical object searched for by evil Nazis trope (Indiana Jones), so why throw all of these together? The book was readable but no more so than a pulp fiction thriller. Honestly, I don't see this as being Pulitzer quality. The characters were ok, the narration interesting, but a masterpiece? The best US fiction in 2015? Perhaps not. And please don't accuse me of being too harsh - All Quiet on the Western Front, The Winds of War, The Caine Mutiny and The Sympathizer are all better war stories than this one. Might as well give Bob Dylan a Nobel for Literature while you are at it...oh damn, they did!
Still not happy with this one. Sorry, but I just cannot appreciate it. I think it was a terrible choice for the Pulitzer, every bit as bad as The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes was for the Booker Prize in 2011.
In retrospect, Doerr's 2021 bestseller Cloud Cuckoo Land was far, far better than this one, but still suffered from being predictable and having paperthin character development.
Profile Image for Yun.
513 reviews19.8k followers
April 18, 2023
Knowing this is a much-loved modern classic, let me tread carefully here.

Going into All the Light We Cannot See, I had heard nothing but great things about it. How enchanting the story is, how the writing will sweep me off my feet, how I will come away changed as a person. And I admit, it does have beautiful prose everywhere. But that isn't enough to save it from being a complete dud.

Essentially, a book with more than 500 pages can't just be made up of nothing but beautiful, flowery, descriptive prose. Things need to happen, plots need to advance, characters need to grow. But so little of that actually happens in this long book. And when something exciting does happen, there is flowery descriptions and random musings embedded right in the middle of it, slowing down what little forward progress there is.

It reminds me of school assignments back in the day, when I'm told to expand on what I've written. But I had no more content, nothing more to say, so I just found different ways to write the same thing over and over, hoping the teacher wouldn't notice. In this way, I would achieve writing alchemy, turning one sentence into four sentences. And that's what happened here.

The book has a dual timeline, alternating between 1944 and the years leading up to it. But that didn't really work for me. The story would have been the same told in chronological order, so the switcharoo back and forth, instead of adding tension or suspense, only led to confusion. The odd thing is that 1944 is supposed to be the climax of the novel, but those sections are so slow and boring, filled with almost no progression of the storyline, merely descriptions of streets, walking, digging, sitting, hiding...

So many people love this book, but it just isn't for me. I fell asleep multiple times while reading it and almost gave up. It's the sort of book where you can pick out any page and be impressed by its descriptive beauty, but when you read the whole book it ultimately is tedious and uninteresting.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 493 books402k followers
July 24, 2015
Adult fiction

This book is getting a lot of well-deserved attention for its unique story and its beautiful writing. It starts late in World War II, as the Allies begin shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out the remaining Nazi troops. Our two main characters are Marie Laure, a blind French girl who fled here with her uncle from Paris, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. We jump back and forth in time, and between the two characters’ perspectives to see how both young people were brought to this place.

If you like straight-ahead, linear, plot-driven war novels, this is not the book for you. It does have a central plot that brings the two characters together – a mystery about a possibly magic gem hunted by an evil, terminally ill Nazi officer – but that is almost beside the point. In fact it feels like something added after the fact, as if an editor said, “You know, what you need is . . .” That plot, and the way it resolves, strongly echoes the mystery in the movie Titanic.

What kept me turning pages, rather, were the characters’ lives and the short, well-crafted scenes. Doerr’s writing is elegant and evocative. Reading it is like eating the best gelato – so decadent you are sure you’ll put on weight. He treats Marie Laure and Werner with equal empathy, and their interaction – when they finally meet – is not your stereotypical wartime love story. It is much better, much more bittersweet and haunting.

It took me about fifty pages to really get into the book and figure out the structure, but once I did, I couldn’t stop.
Profile Image for Becky.
392 reviews159 followers
July 7, 2014
I'm sure this is going to mark me as a literary dud, but for all the brilliant reviews of this book? I couldn't really get into it.

The book revolves around Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father. Her father is the locksmith at the Paris Museum of Natural History, and Marie is raised wholly in the museum and at home. Marie has a semi-idyllic childhood until the Nazi's invade Paris and she and her father have to flee to another city, where a reclusive uncle lives. Unknown to Marie, her father is smuggling the world's most priceless jewel out of the city on behalf of the museum. Unfortunately for them, a German soldier is hot on the trail of the jewel, and will go to extreme lengths to find it.

Werner is a German orphan who teaches himself everything to do with radios; after repairing a senior-ranking German officer's radio, he is given entry into a youth academy that trains young soldiers for Hitler's Army. He is then drafted to utilize his skills to find resistance armies who are using the radio - but Werner is no soldier and soon realizes the cost of his talent.

I found the book somewhat plodding; like you were waiting for something important to happen...and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Eventually Marie and Werner's stories collide - but only briefly and completely unsatisfactorily. I'm sure that's the point - that life is hardly satisfactory, but still. Parts of the book were very interesting - the last third probably kept my attention best. This wasn't a book that you can't put down though; very little tension (at least for me).

Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
401 reviews3,484 followers
March 21, 2023
Anthoy Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See lives up to the hype! This historical fiction novel is set in World War II and alternates between two main characters, a teenage boy named Werner Pfennig and a blind teenage girl named Marie-Laure.

Don’t be the last one to the party on this book! Netflix is planning on creating a four-part limited series based on this book, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. Hugh Laurie is set to play the role of Marie-Laure's great uncle!

This is my second Anthony Doerr book, and it didn’t disappoint. The other novel that I read was Cloud Cuckoo Land. All the Light We Cannot See is much more straightforward in my opinion and is much easier to follow. Although All the Light We Cannot see is a rather lengthy novel, the short paragraphs and chapters keep the action flowing.

When reading this book, I practiced immersion reading with a free copy of the text through Libby, a free service provided by my local library and a copy of the audiobook procured through Scribd. I love immersion reading!!!!!

We meet Werner Pfennig. He is an orphan, living in Germany, who awaits the passage of time where he dreads the day he will start to work in the very same mine that killed his father. However, Werner makes a name for himself working on radios. Will Werner’s skills be his ticket out of the orphanage? What will Werner do with these skills? And how will his path intersect with Marie-Laure?

Although Marie-Laure is originally born with sight, she eventually loses her ability to see. Her father helps her to regain her independence by crafting a replica of the city. However, Paris is at risk for attack, and Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo where her great-uncle lives. Her great-uncle is 63, suffering from PTSD, and never leaves the house. How will All The Light We Cannot See end for Marie-Laure, her father, and her great-uncle?

This book has some really great character development. The characters are not all good nor all bad. Some of the characters struggle with decisions that they have made, questioning what they should have done differently. Additionally, there are two disabled people in this book. They are important characters (not side characters), and they are doing important work. Not all heroes carry swords or have ninja moves.

Overall, All The Light We Cannot See is a captivating read, one I look forward to reading again. Need more bookish thoughts? Check out Lisa of Troy's homepage!

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for Jenna .
137 reviews181 followers
November 6, 2021
It has been awhile since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come.

When reading the synopsis of this novel, I never imagined that I would feel so connected to a book where one of the main characters is blind and the other a brilliant young German orphan who was chosen to attend a brutal military academy under Hitler's power using his innate engineering skills.

This novel was so much more than the above states. The idiosyncrasies of each individual character are so well defined and expressed in such ways that come across the page almost lyrically. I was invited into the pages and could not only imagine the atmosphere, but all of my senses were collectively enticed from the very first page until the last.

I was so amazed with the way that the author was able to heighten all my senses in a way that I felt like I knew what it was like to be blind. In most well-written books you get of a sense of what the characters look like and follow them throughout the book almost as if you are on a voyage, but with this novel, I could imagine what it was like to be in Marie-Laure's shoes. The descriptives were so beautifully intricate that I could imagine the atmosphere through touch and sound. It was amazing, really.

There were so many different aspects of the book that are lived out in separate moments and in different countries that find a way to unite in the end. What impressed me most was that I could have never predicted the outcome. It was as though all cliches were off the table and real life was set in motion. Life outside of books can be very messy and the author stayed true to life but in a magical and symbolic way.

I have said in other reviews that just when I think that I have read my last book centered around the Second World War, another seems to pop up. I should emphasize that this book created an image of war in a way that I have never imagined before. I truly got a sense of what it must have been like for children who lived a happy life and then suddenly were on curfew and barely had food to eat. It also showed the side of young children who are basically brainwashed by Nazi leaders and made into animals who seem to make choices that they normally wouldn't in order to survive. And by survive, I mean dodging severe abuse by their own colleagues.

This book may haunt me for some time. I can't express enough how beautifully written the pages are. I highly recommend this read as it is my favorite so far for 2014.

I received this book through NetGalley
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
December 24, 2018
Bumped this up to 5 stars because the last 100 pages made me cry like a little bitch. Both the main characters are likable, inquisitive, and sympathetic; the side characters are also endearing and wonderful companions. The writing style and imagery is poetic without veering towards purple prose; I was impressed by Doerr's ability to weave words together in such a lovely and rich way, especially from the perspective of a blind character. The themes throughout the story — how war can rob the normalcy of childhoods, how the main characters remain inquisitive about the wonders of the world despite it all — is so touching that I cried at both the sad parts and the simple pleasures that these characters got to enjoy. My only caveat is that the book can be quite slow, with only significant events happening every hundred pages or so. This is due to Doerr literally going through the characters’ entire lives from childhood to adulthood and representing the (often times mundane) moments passing by. It’s a double-edged sword, because the slice-of-life approach helps create realism and attachment as we watch the characters grow, but the downside is that it can be boring at times. I also wish we got to see interactions between Marie-Laure and Werner — they barely had any moments together, and while I acknowledge their relationship isn’t the point of the book, I think it would have enriched the story even more (and would have turned me into putty) because they connected so well in the small time they were together. Nonetheless, the story is still tragically beautiful.
Profile Image for Caz (littlebookowl).
301 reviews40.3k followers
June 28, 2016
This book was so beautiful and haunting. I fell in love with so many of the characters, and loved how their lives were weaved together. Knowing the time period this was set in, I knew the ending would hurt. And it did, though I didn't shed as many tears as I expected.
The writing was incredible, the descriptions so vivid. It did a superb job of showing the reader how the characters felt through their actions, rather than telling. Whilst the short chapters (on average 1.5 pages) helped to make this read a little quicker, it was still quite a slow book. I really enjoyed being able to savour it and get to know the characters, however there were some points where it felt a little too dense and slow.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,820 followers
July 29, 2016
I think that my opinion of this book does not match the general opinion.

I was pretty bored throughout and my mind kept wandering. I kept waiting for a big payoff, plot twist, that would bring my attention crashing back. I thought there might be some grand resolution beyond the symbolism and poetry of the writing, and there really didn't seem to be. Maybe I missed it while my mind was wandering.

Two other things - I have been encountering these a lot lately:

- WWII is now definitely entrenched as a YA genre. Over the past year I have accidentally stumbled onto books that are being read by a wide audience, I know nothing about them, and when I start reading them they start with a teenage girl dealing with the perils of WWII. I have also read several knowing this was the case going in. This is not a bad thing, just an observation that there are a lot out there now!
- Why are there so many books lately with confusing story line time jumps!? I never really felt like they added a whole lot to this particular book. Maybe a couple of "Oh, that's how we got here" moments, but that was it.

I have seen a lot of 5 star review for this book, so maybe I am in the minority. I would not be the one to recommend this one, but you probably shouldn't listen to me as you might miss out on a 5 star book for you!

Side note: I listened to this book and I thought the narrator was great, but, as mentioned above, it did not keep my attention and that has not happened to me in a very long time with audio. (and I just listened to The Goldfinch!)
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
May 25, 2016
I enjoyed this novel by Anthony Doerr and yet when I was nearing the end I couldn't help feel a a sense of relief to have finished the book.

I enjoy historical fiction and really looked forward to this novel by Anthony Doerr as it was set in a time frame that that really interests me. Because I read quite a lot of novels set around World War Two I love the fact that the author took a a slightly different path with his storytelling and that is what drew me to this novel.

I loved the characters of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig and the sense of time and setting of the novel. There is a slight magical element to the stroy which I am not a major fan of at the best of times but it works well in this book.
I did however struggle with the structure and pace of the novel and this is the reason for me liking this novel and not loving it. I found the toing and froing between time frames a bit tedious and the chapters too short. Normally this isn't a problem for me but however in this book it took from my overall enjoyment of the story. It wasn't that I couldn't follow the plot but more that it became a chore for me and just when I was gelling with one time frame and character I was dragged kicking and screaming to another time frame and character and wished at times the author would just allow the story to flow and not chop and change.

To sum up an interesting and worthwhile read and a book that will be enjoyed by historical fiction lovers and book clubs over the summer.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.5k followers
October 9, 2019
Did I just... finish a book?

The audiobook was definitely the way to go with this one!

Very popular historical fiction. Out of my comfort zone. I get the hype, the writing was beautiful but not a favorite!
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
May 24, 2023
i loved this book when i was 17, but i have approximately 0 things in common with 17 year old me, except a raging sweet tooth and an enduring soft spot for the early one direction albums.

for many years i wanted to reread it, except i loved historical fiction then and have since realized i no longer can say that. aka this seemed like a recipe for disaster, even for me.

but then i five starred another book by this author, and i could no longer resist.

but look who turned out fine!!

i mean, i did have a lot of trouble getting into this. it was beautifully written and the characters were wonderfully constructed, but i didn't feel emotionally connected until the last two chapters.

the ending was perfect and i always want to 5 star books with perfect endings, but i've also lost the charm that historical fiction used to have for me since reading this...a lot of conflicting emotions, but in short this will be 4.5.

and cloud cuckoo land is better.

bottom line: trying to be masochistic and it isn't working. this book is too good.

project update

welcome to...PROJECT 5 STAR.

this year, i'm trying to read more for Quality instead of Quantity (after nearly ruining my life last year reading 365 books), and so part of that will include revisiting every book i've ever rated as perfect!

please join me in praying that this project is whimsical and optimistic instead of a devastating loss of all my favorites.

first up is the bestselling novel of the author of the only book i've given 5 stars so far this year...ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

let's see how this goes.

updated review to come, but for now this is 4.5!
Profile Image for Candace.
1,176 reviews4,206 followers
June 14, 2017
So, I know I should be oohing and ahhing over this book, but it just wasn't for me. This is definitely one of those "it's not you, it's me" moments. I can see why many people have given such glowing reviews, but I found it to be unbearably dull and slow-moving. I never felt a strong connection with either of the main characters or the story itself. I'm just glad that it ended.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
May 25, 2014
What I loved most about this book was all the light that I did see. There is so much here that captivated me - from the beautiful writing to the strong, caring characters to the loving relationships and the way people touched each other's lives during the trying times of WW II.

Parallel stories are told in alternating chapters of Marie Laure, a teenage French girl who has been blind since the age of six and Werner, an intelligent, perceptive and sensitive German orphan who learns to fix radios and becomes noticed by the German army. Each of their stories will move you in their own right, but especially when their paths cross.

Through the lovely descriptive language we know that Marie Laure sees what she cannot see because he father lovingly carves a model of the neighborhood so she can tell where buildings and streets are and she knows by the number of steps and which way to turn. This loving, nurturing and often times touching relationship between Marie Laure and her fathers will melt your heart. He teaches her Braille, buys her books in Braille and gives her lovely little surprise boxes opened by solving a puzzle or trick opening to discover the hidden gift .

Werner and his orphan sister Jutta have a special relationship , as well, and the letters they exchange are at once heartbreaking an heartwarming, even though it appears that Jutta has a hard time forgiving Werner for what he does to the radio.

Doerr has created and developed characters that you care about as soon as you meet them. I loved “The Old Ladies Resistance Club”, led by Madame Manec, housekeeper, friend and caretaker to Ettiene , Marie's great uncle. The relationships that develop between Madame Manec and Marie Laure and between Uncle Ettiene and Marie Laure are nothing short of beautiful. The role that these people, including Marie Laure, play in the resistance is so courageous.

Some bad things and some very sad things happened but after all this was war. But I loved the connections of people in the end and the ultimately uplifting feeling of hope - another light in this book .

I highly recommend it .
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
August 5, 2021
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is a novel written by American author Anthony Doerr, published by Scribner on May 6, 2014. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

In 1934, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a six year old blind girl living in Paris with her father, the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. Her father constructs a scale model of their neighborhood to help her visualize her surroundings.

In Germany, 8-year-old Werner Pfennig is an orphan in the coal-mining town of Zollverein. Werner is exceptionally bright and has a natural skill for repairing radios. After he finds a broken one with his younger sister Jutta, he fixes it and he uses it to hear science and music programs transmitted across Europe. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه نوامبر سال 2016 میلادی

عنوان: نوری که نمیتوانیم ببینیم؛ نویسنده: آنتونی دوئر (دائر)؛ مترجم: روح الله صادقی؛ ویراستار اصغر اندرودی؛ کرج در دانش بهمن؛ 1394؛ در 574ص؛ شابک 9789641741763؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

کتاب برنده جایزه «پولیتزر» است؛ «ماری-لور» همراه پدر خویش در «پاریس»، نزدیک موزه ی «تاریخ طبیعی»، که پدرش در آنجا به عنوان استاد کلیدساز، مسئول هزاران قفل موجود در موزه است، زندگی میکند؛ «ماری» در شش سالگی، بینایی اش را از دست میدهد، و پدرش ماکت بی نقصی از محله شان میسازد، تا او، با لمس ماکت، محله را به خاطر بسپارد، و بتواند خود مسیر خانه را پیدا کند؛ هنگامی که «پاریس» به اشغال ارتش «نازیها» درمیآید، پدر و دختر به استحکامات شهر «سنت-مالو» میگریزند؛ آنها با خودشان قطعه ای را حمل میکنند، که ممکن است با ارزشترین و خطرناکترین جواهر موزه باشد؛ در شهری معدنی در «آلمان»، پسری یتیم به نام «ورنر» همراه با خواهر کوچکترش رشد میکند، و مسحور رادیوی خرابی میشود که آن را پیدا کرده است؛ استعداد او در ساخت و تعمیر این ابزار حیاتی جدید، برای او جایگاهی در آکادمی جوانان «هیتلر»، به ارمغان میآورد، و سپس مأموریت ویژه ای برای ردیابی نیروهای مقاومت، به او محول میشود؛ این مأموریت او را به «سنت-مالو» هدایت میکند، جایی که داستان او و «ماری» تلاقی پیدا میکنند؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 03/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 13/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Adina.
827 reviews3,230 followers
June 6, 2018
How do I review a novel that most of my friends loved but left me mainly indifferent. Again, I have a case when I feel guilty for not liking a book more and trying to figure out what is wrong with me. Since that failed I will try my luck explaining what this novel did or didn’t do for me.

Firstly, the writing. It is beautiful, intricate, full of elegant, well thought sentences. However, they let me untouched. I don’t know why but I did not feel anything when reading those polished words. Maybe, as others also mentioned, the author struggled too hard to impress and it had the opposite effect on me.

Secondly, the characters. They felt too flat, too likeable without risking any emotion or treat that could make them more interesting and complex. I still enjoyed reading about them, but I fell like their personalities were too subtle.

Talking about subtlety, this novel did not really feel like it was addressing one of the most terrible periods in the World’s history. All the bad things were toned down, in my opinion. Maybe because this novel is in essence a YA story. That’s not a bad thing but maybe if I had known that from the beginning I would have had different expectations.

The search for the mythical diamond felt a bit weird and introduced in the plot by forced but It did not bother me that much.

I liked reading the novel at times but when I closed the book, I was in no hurry to restart. The short chapters did not help as I had no problem to close the book after 2 pages, especially at night. The short chapters also kept me on the outside of the plot and the characters. However, it was a light, fast read and I do not regret the time spent with it.
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,379 reviews7,089 followers
January 11, 2016
* I received a free copy from Netgalley, so thank you to them*

Saint Malo is one of my favourite places in France, it's a joy strolling its historic cobbled streets on a warm sunny day, but the St Malo depicted in this story is as far removed from the one in MY memory as it's possible to get. Set against the backdrop of World War II, France is under German occupation, St Malo under siege, and then finally the city comes under aerial attack. There are parallel lives here in the guise of Marie-Laure, a French blind girl, and Werner, a German boy living in an orphanage with his sister Jutta. It's not just a war story though, it's a coming of age, a childhood interrupted. Marie-Laure flees Paris with her father after the advancement of the German army. They take refuge with Uncle Etienne in St Malo. Werner meanwhile, becomes a radio expert with that same army from which Marie-Laure has fled. This is a captivating storyline, the writing exquisite, it's hard to put down, and even harder to forget. I expected a lot from this book and it didn't let me down. Quite simply, beautiful!
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
November 17, 2018
‘open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

reading this story reminded me of eating a decadent chocolate cake - so rich and filling that you are only able to eat a couple of bites at a time. meaning this book took me sooo long to finish because there was just so much to savour, so much to appreciate.

had this been any other book, i might have complained that it was too slow paced, too dense, too tedious. but i didnt think any of that with this story, regardless of how long it took me to reach the final page. because by the end, i discovered how rewarding all that effort really was.

such a beautiful and heartbreaking story and one every person should read.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
April 4, 2014
For me, this was a very special read. I feel like I have been on a long gut-wrenching journey, and in a way I have, traveling with two young children, one in Berlin and one in Paris and follow them as they grow-up. There are poignant moments, downright sad moments, moments that made me smile and moments that made me so very angry. Werner in Berlin is a curious child, a child with the talent for putting things together, like radios, he and his sister Jutta live in an orphanage. Marie-Laure, a blind girl and her father live in Paris, her father is the keeper of the keys for a prestigious museum. It is the radio that will connect these two lives long before they actually meet.

The descriptions are wonderful, very detailed as they are made for a blind girl, to enable her to envision the many things described. The novel travels, back and forth, times when they were young, times when they are a bit older and Marie-Laure finds herself and her father in St, Malo at the home her eccentric uncle, who is another amazing character Werner finds himself chosen for a school, and we travel along with him as we learn the many young men in the Nazi party were trained to be cold blooded killers.

How far would you go along with the prevailing threats and times, how would you react when confronted with an injustice? One young man pays heavily for his supposed weakness of character. How long can one pretend everything is fine, trying to keep eyes closed so one cannot see?

So it is radios, little built towns and houses, built by Marie-Laure's father so she can get around wherever she lives. It is keys, the French resistance, the United States Air Force bombing of St. Malo, of imprisonments and yes love. Moral questions and a great character study.

It even follows a few characters after the war in Berlin, which is where this quote comes in, "Does any goodness linger in this last derelict stronghold? A little." The story than picks ups twennty years later. I read this as slow as I could, I really did not want it to end.

ARC from publisher
Profile Image for بثينة العيسى.
Author 23 books25.4k followers
April 5, 2020
هذا الكتاب ذكرني بما يردده صديق لي دائمًا؛ يُتعبني الجمال يا بثينة.
هذه رواية أتعبتني من فرطِ جمالها.

كنت أتوقف عن القراءة عندما أُتخم بالمعاني، لا أريد أن أفرّط في سطر أو نصف سطر، أردت أن أعب من جمالها بقدر ما أستطيع، وجمال هذا العمل تحديدًا يكمنُ في تفاصيله؛ الاشتغال على اللغة، شعرنة قوانين العالم، الطبيعة بصفتها حضورًا أبديًا في النص، العلاقات المدهشة؛ حيث كل واحد هو طوافة نجاة الآخر.

عندي درجة تحمّل عالية لأدب الحروب، إنه ينجح في اجتذابي، مثل مغنايس، لأنني أعتقد بأن أدب الحروب - إذا كتب ببراعة - سيقدم إضاءة حقيقية لما يمكن أن يكون عليه الإنسان، في القبح والبشاعة معًا. أوغاد وأبطال؛ مساحات شاسعة من الرمادي.

تخيّل الآن ظلامًا بهيمًا، مُطبقًا، حيث العالم يذهب إلى دمارهِ تحديدًا. وفي وسط كل هذا الظلام تبدأ في رؤية أنوار خافتة قادمة من بعيد؛ نجوم، حشرات مضئية؟ إن البصيص الصغير في العتمة هو كل شيء، ويمكن لشيء صغير جدًا أن يكون عظيم الجمال.

الرواية كلها بُنيت على هذه الفلسفة، لم تكتفِ بإخبارنا عما تفعله الحربُ بالحالمين، بل حدثتنا أيضًا عما يفعله الحالمون في الحرب، كيف يضيئون مثل بصيص.

يتيمٌ ألماني في ملجأ وطفلة فرنسية ضريرة، صنعا معًا ملحمة إنسانية، متعبة جدًا، من فرط جمالها.

June 9, 2014
This is a case of where I am going to hate myself for again feeling a book that has received a multitude of five star ratings feel short for me. It was not that I disliked it, but I found it to be jumpy and often disjointed. I am not a fan of the current trend of devoting one chapter to one character and the next to another and flipping back and forth. To my way of reading and thinking, it doesn't allow the reader (me) to gather depth of a character. It makes me overly anxious to sally forth trying to connect and find the thread. My interest wans and the moment I seem to be getting there with a character I am pulled away to the next chapter.

While the characters were different, I felt by the time I reached the final page I really did not know them well at all. They were like phantoms and perhaps that is exactly the way the author wished them to be. Midway throughout this overly long novel, I felt that I had turned a corner and had finally grasped onto the people of the novel, but seemed again to lose their continuity and their relevance as the book continued to what I felt was a murky conclusion.

Sorry to say, I feel like I did when I finished The Book Thief, a bit of a traitor to a book that so many loved, but from which I received not much satisfaction.
Profile Image for Matt.
917 reviews28.2k followers
February 1, 2019
"So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?
- Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

I follow a very specific plan whenever a new work of popular fiction bursts upon the stage. First, I buy it, right away. Like the instant I finish reading the review in the New York Times. Second, I put the book on my shelf, as soon as I receive it. Finally, I read it, two or three or four years later, when I finally get around to it. This routine is a function of several things, chiefly a love of books, a deliberate reading speed, and also financial impulsivity. At one point my wife found this charming. Now… Well, let’s just say her Amazon.com Face becomes more a mask of exasperation every week.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See forced me to change my ways, at least for a single book. As a history lover, and a lover of historical fiction, the setting and the characters were irresistible. World War II. A blind French girl who’s part of the Resistance. A young German radioman hunting partisans. The walled city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast. And all this with a literary pedigree to boot.

When it got to my house, it came out of the box and straight to the top of my reading list.

(Full disclosure: It was also chosen by my Book Club. I might have had something to do with the choice).

There’s no other way to continue without first heaping accolades. This is an excellent book. It is intricately structured. It is beautifully written. It has some memorable characters. There are even some equations, just like in a Harvard bar. Yes, there is some self-conscious and rather heavy-handed literary pretensions – this is a book with leitmotifs, I tell you, honest to god leitmotifs – but in the end Doerr is so self assured in the story he is telling, and the book itself is so damned readable, that I am willing to forgive the parts that felt churned from a creative writing workshop.

The two main characters of All the Light We Cannot See are that blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and the young German radioman, Werner Pfennig. Before I go farther, it’s important to note this book’s presentation and structure. To begin, the novel is told in tiny chapters. Sometimes a couple pages. Sometimes a paragraph. Thus, despite being 530 pages, this is a rather quick read. The short chapters give Doerr the opportunity to present the perfect details at the perfect moments. Much of the power of this book comes from this clever delivery, these mini-scenes that burst and fade like fireworks.

Next, the novel is constructed as a series of chronological flashbacks leading to the book’s pivotal moment, which is the Anglo-American Allies’ siege of Saint-Malo. The novel begins on August 7, 1944, with Allied bombers dropping leaflets on Saint-Malo, warning people to leave. We meet Marie-Laure; we meet Werner; we are confused, because we don’t know why we are meeting them. After a few chapters, Doerr jumps back in time to 1934, with alternating Marie-Laure and Werner chapters. The flashback timeline progresses chronologically, often with rather large jumps in time. Every so often, however, the reader is thrust back to 1944 and the onrushing German-Allied cataclysm. We live in an era of sophisticated storytelling, when even popular sitcoms (e.g., How I Met Your Mother) resort to layered flashbacks, nested narratives, and shifting viewpoints, so Doerr’s structure is not difficult to follow. Just to be sure, however, he always date-stamps his time shifts. This is what I mean by readable. All the Light We Cannot See is literary fiction more than historical fiction, and like I said above, there are equations, and long discussions about radio waves, but none of this is off-putting. This is a book that wants to be read.

The arcs of our two major protagonists are both engrossing in their own way. Marie-Laure’s father is a master locksmith at the famed Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father constructs a highly detailed physical model of the streets of Paris – streets, houses, even sewers – so that his daughter can learn the layout with her hands, and be able to navigate the real streets herself. On her birthdays, he makes a puzzle for her to solve, and uses his limited funds to purchase her Braille copies of great, adventurous works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The relationship between father and daughter, told delicately through these actions (rather than by grand exchanges of dialogue or lengthy internal monologues), is one of the most moving parts of a moving novel.

Through her father, Marie-Laure learns of one of the Museum’s most prized possession, the Sea of Flames, a diamond that is thought to give its holder immortality, while causing death and disfavor to everyone surrounding him. Usually, I dislike magical-realism, but here, I was first charmed by the fable, and later surprised how Doerr weaves it into the rest of his story.

One of the highlights of Marie-Laure’s arc is her and her father’s flight from Paris during the Fall of France in 1940. The scenes Doerr creates are strongly reminiscent of the first cycle in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise.

Initially, I was a little less interested in Werner’s storyline. He lives in an orphanage with his sister in a coal-mining town. He has an aptitude for tinkering, and is able to fix an old radio. Eventually, he is chosen for a Hitler Youth boot camp, and his arc picks up. The vignettes set in this camp are exceptionally well done, reminding me of the first half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Eventually, Werner is sent East, to triangulate partisan radio signals and hunt them down.

Partway through this epic, Doerr introduces a Nazi by the name of von Rumpel. He is the wild card, the one thing that can disrupt the destiny of both Werner and Marie-Laure. Doerr does an excellent job with this guy. He is a man on a mission, to find a very specific thing (more than a few shades of Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds) and the weapon he develops to accomplish his task is patience. This trait is introduced in a remarkably chilly scene, where von Rumpel is trying to get information from someone who is not willing to part with it:

“I am quite gifted at waiting,” von Rumpel says in French. “It is my one great skill. I was never much good at athletics or mathematics, but even as a boy, I possessed unnatural patience. I would wait with my mother while she got her hair styled. I would sit in the chair and wait for hours, no magazine, no toys, not even swinging my legs back and forth. All the mothers were very impressed.”

How’s that for evoking dread and menace? The image of a kid sitting still for his mother. I love it.

This is a gorgeously written book. I mean, it is written. There are very few throwaway lines or lazy clichés. Strewn throughout random paragraphs will be these wonderfully polished sentences that just leap out at you. Take, for instance, the first time Marie-Laure goes to the sea:

She walks. Now there are cold round pebbles beneath her feet. Now crackling weeds. Now something smoother: wet, unwrinkled sand. She bends and spreads her fingers. It’s like cold silk. Cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid offerings: pebbles, shells, barnacles. Tiny sips of wrack. Her fingers dig and reach; the drops of rain touch the back of her neck, the backs of her hands. The sand pulls the heat from her fingertips, from the soles of her feet.

A months-old knot inside Marie-Laure begins to loosen. She moves along the tide line, almost crawling at first, and imagines the beach stretching off in either direction, ringing the promontory, embracing the outer islands, the whole filigreed tracery of the Breton coastline with its wild capes and crumbling batteries and vine-choked ruins. She imagines the walled city behind her, its soaring ramparts, its puzzle of streets. All of it suddenly as small as Papa’s model. But what surrounds the model is not something her father conveyed to her; what’s beyond the model is the most compelling thing.

This is the point in which I have to state this is not a perfect novel. Rather, it did not hit me in that precise spot. I took some time to think about this, because I know what my heart wants, and what it usually wants is a book just like this.

Part of my discontent is with the ending. Perhaps there is no satisfactory way to conclude a novel like this, with its wildly different characters converging at once, after hundreds of pages of buildup. But I found the ending very dissatisfying. What is more, it dragged out unnecessarily.

More importantly, I never fully embraced Marie-Laure and Werner as characters. As I said before, I adored the relationship between Marie-Laure and her Papa. It was touching and fragile and really nailed the nonverbal, gruff-yet-tender way that fathers interact with daughters. Otherwise, though, I felt a bit remote from the people that I’m supposed to have such stake in.

I think the fault might lay in Doerr’s framework. It is too clockwork, too well made. There is none of the shagginess of real life. He lays out the roadmap right away, by showing you in the first section that Marie-Laure and Werner are in the same place. All the rest is just explanation. It’s very good explanation, but it lacks that element of surprise, of mortal danger, that makes you really care for characters. You know, at the very least, that these two parallel stories are going to connect in some way. Until that happens, you don’t really fear for Marie-Laure or Werner, and therefore you don’t get as attached to them. At least that’s my explanation why, for all this novel’s obvious attributes and qualities, I didn’t absolutely love this reading experience.

The criticisms, though, are half-hearted. The worst I can say about All the Light We Cannot See is that it is not my all-time favorite novel. Really, I’m just practicing things to say at Book Club, since if we all just say we love it, there’s not much point to Book Club or to the drinking that goes along with Book Club.
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