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All the Light We Cannot See
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February 2016: World War II > All the Light We Cannot See / Anthony Doerr - 4****

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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5808 comments Cross-posted to Shelfagories

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Book on CD narrated by Zach Appelman
4****

A blind French girl and a young German orphan find their lives intersect in the walled Brittany town of Saint-Malo in August 1944. Marie-Laure is 16, and has been blind since age six. Her father works at the Natural History Museum in Paris and she has learned much by exploring with her other senses – touch, smell, sound, taste. As the Germans occupy France, Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo and the home of her great uncle Etienne (an agoraphobic since his return from fighting in WW I). Meanwhile Werner and his younger sister Jutta grow up in an orphanage in a mining town, where his genius for electronics comes to the attention of the Nazis and gains him entrance to an elite boys’ school.

The story is told in alternating chapters, and with alternating time frames. Each section begins with what is happening in Saint-Malo in August 1944, as the allies bomb the city, and the residents and occupying German forces seek shelter from the onslaught. But the story then separates as we follow these two different characters from 1934 onward, discovering how they come to both be in the town at that fateful time.

Doerr gives us wonderful descriptions, letting the reader experience the world as Marie-Laure or Werner does. The sections narrated by Marie-Laure are full of the use of her other senses as she tries to compensate for her lack of vision. We can smell the warm yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread, taste the salty air of a beach, feel the smooth yet textured shell of a whelk, or hear the soft strains of Clair de Lune or the screech and roar of incoming aircraft. Werner’s sections are much more internal, as he struggles with what is morally right in the face of his training (indoctrination) and obligation as a soldier of the Reich. He bears witness to horrors that Marie-Laure cannot see, or even imagine.

By the time their stories intersect I am as anxious as they are for relief from the war.

Doerr peoples the novel with a wide assortment of characters … from the competent housekeeper, to the single-minded sergeant major, they are all fully fleshed out, providing support on the one hand, or bringing cruel danger on the other.

The audio version is performed by Zach Appelman, who does a marvelous job. His gift as a voice artist makes it easy to believe he is speaking for a blind teenaged girl, a confused German boy, an elderly uncle, or a gruff soldier. As an added bonus the audio book begins and ends with the strains of Clair de Lune …. A haunting melody that is a perfect metaphor for this beautifully told story, and is still playing in my head.


Jgrace | 2817 comments I did not listen to this one, although I seem to do more and more of my 'reading' that way as time passes. I didn't think I would like the reader after listening to a sample. But you've convinced me that I should give it a try as a reread. I'll put it on my overdrive wish list. Thanks, B.C.

I did listen to Memory Wall, a collection of his short stories. It was very well done. I've just picked up a copy of that one to reread it in print.


Barbara M (barbara-m) | 2224 comments I completely enjoyed the audio on this novel.


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