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All the Light We Cannot See
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April 2019: History > All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - 4 stars

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message 1: by Teodora (last edited Apr 18, 2019 07:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teodora Paslaru | 149 comments This book... This book. So hard to rate it. To say I didn't like it would be untrue, but also, I cannot say I liked it with all my heart.

Looking through the reviews of my friends, I spotted a pattern. Those who like books about World War II had a tendency to like this book less than those who didn't like those kind of story. I am a person who likes stories about war, any war. Which category do you think I fit?

The main reason for this, I think, is because it is not much a book about war, but a book in which the action takes place during a war. The war influences the life of the characters, but it's not... it's not a character in itself. I don't know other way to say it. This book is not like The Book Thief or like The Nightingale, two of my favorite WWII books. This has its own category.

I'll start with the good things. The writing. It is beautiful. Extremely beautiful. Poetic. Colorful. Each word is exactly in the perfect place. The punctuation... Unusually, I don't notice punctuation when I read a book, but Doerr showed us exactly how you can play with it. What a great difference to the general flow of the book, to the sounds it creates in our mind, a comma or a period can make. It's hard to explain because it's not like other books had mistakes when it came to punctuation, but here it becomes a living thing taking over the prose and carrying it across the pages. A masterful writer.

Yet, it seemed to me his style fits better for short story than for novels (he has a collection of short story that I'm very interested in reading). Here, something seem to miss, somewhere along those beautiful lines the magic started to dissipate despite the exquisite style.

I don't know why, but to me it seemed that the real story happened somewhere around 80% of the book. Until then, all that was there was backstory. I don't know why, but this is how I felt about it. Then, we have the story, which lasts only a little, followed by an after-story. It was like I waited and waited for something to happen, and then it happened fast, and then it was over, the war is over, everything is over. Yeah, I got bored at some point with this book if I'm honest.

Then, the characters. I didn't liked them enough. I didn't disliked them, but they felt... too good to be true, there's no other way of saying it. They didn't felt real. No, I didn't get the feelings I could meet those people in real life, not entirely. Maybe in Werner one can find flaws, but in Marie-Laure?

As for Werner, he was presented as a main character, but I couldn't see his use, apart from that one action I won't talk about because of spoilers. The ending of his story left me like...

Then the diamond. What happened with the diamond? I suppose Doerr wanted to leave this part opened for interpretation, but somehow he stole from my sense of fulfillment.

There were some scenes I liked, some scenes were it felt like a war book presenting us the ugly side of life, but mostly this book's job is not to present ugliness. Maybe it is my fault for expecting it. Yet, to a masterful writer like Doerr, to someone who can put words together in such a beautiful manner, I can give no less than four stars. I understand why this book won so many prizes. I really do. But it wasn't the book for me. Not for right now.


Joanne (joabroda1) | 7505 comments Lovely review-this was a five star for me, but as I read your review you made stop and think-because I agree with all you said. I read it before I was writing reviews, so I cannot compare your thoughts to mine.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments I absolutely loved this book and I think you hit on exactly why early in your review: the writing was beautiful. I am a sucker for gorgeous writing and it was the icing on the cake for me.

Marie-Laure was definitely the more vivid character and the storyline that kept me coming back, but...

I also liked Werner more than it seems you did. I don't know if "like" is the right word, but I think he was an intriguing portrayal of the average German in WWII. He didn't really have a choice in what he did. Don't get me wrong, people participated in horrible atrocities during WWII—as other people have done in other wars—but I am intrigued by the everyday German whose choice was to commit small acts to further the Nazi agenda (like intercept anti-German radio signals) or perhaps die. And, Werner eventually revolts in small ways, completing his character arc.

This conflict between altruism and self-protection is not unique to Germans in WWII (Rwanda is just one other example that comes to mind) and forcing the self-protection option through terror and violence is a common hallmark among dictatorships and genocide.

That is a long explanation for my simply stating that I appreciated the character of Werner very much.


Susie | 4488 comments Another loved it from me. I could have opened it when I finished and started all over again.


Jgrace | 2818 comments Susie wrote: "Another loved it from me. I could have opened it when I finished and started all over again."

:) I think I did exactly that! I had to go back, reread sections to track how those two children ended up where they were at the end of the war. I still have questions about that jewel and what it represented. Everytime I think about it, it acquires deeper meaning.


Jgrace | 2818 comments " This conflict between altruism and self-protection is not unique to Germans in WWII (Rwanda is just one other example that comes to mind) and forcing the self-protection option through terror and violence is a common hallmark among dictatorships and genocide."

It is so kind of you to give me the benefit of your coursework! That statement is giving me so much to think about. Also makes me want to reread this book and several others so I can rethink the characters' behavior in light of the 'self-protection option'.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Jgrace wrote: "" Also makes me want to reread this book and several others so I can rethink the characters' behavior in light of the 'self-protection option'."

It is a hard thing to really think about in a detached and academic manner because, ultimately, these people did horrible things. But, a book I read on the Rwandan genocide really hit home for me.

To put it in context of WWII though....

What would I do if I were German and knew my neighbors were Jewish. I knew that they would be taken from their homes and at least taken to a ghetto. Morally, I despise this and I have no problem with Jews or anyone else for that matter.

But, the SS shows up at my door asking if I know anyone who is Jewish. I know that if they find out that I know my neighbors are Jewish and I did NOT tell them, then they will kill me and my family as traitors.

What would I do? My choice is to protect my neighbors and stand up for my moral beliefs at the risk of my entire family being killed. Or, am I implicit in the Nazi agenda and tell them about the neighbors and thereby protecting my family.

It would be different if I were perhaps only risking my going to jail for a few years or some other kind of penalty for lying about my neighbors being Jewish. But, death? And it would be different if I were only risking my own life, but what about the lives of my spouse and kids?

I always want to think that I would be the brave one. I would be a Schindler who helped save Jewish children. Or I would be The Nightingale who led MIA troops over the mountains to safety. Or would I only be a Werner and turn a blind eye on isolated instances.

It made for a very interesting discussion in my class. Taking the moral high ground is not as easy or crystal clear in hindsight.

Total sidetrack there, but things some of my classes have made me think about differently.


Jgrace | 2818 comments Sophie's Choice ! That book (and movie) kept me awake nights.

To refer back to the discussions about 'not another WW2 book!'
I do think that this time setting is overused, even exploited at times. But, I value books like this one which explore the moral choices in a complex way. The gorgeous prose doesn't hurt, either.


message 9: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy | 8535 comments This is true even of the SS, frightening to think. Either join the party or be killed. Kill or be killed. At Nuremberg they all said, I was just following orders. But for them too it was life or death.


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