"All the Light We Cannot See" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Memorable and literary, I had double the pleasure with “All the Light We Cannot See,” which I read and listened to when it was first published on 2014. This beautifully written historical novel by Anthony Doerr is set in the lovely, sea-washed walled-city of Saint-Malo, France, in the period leading up to World War II, and the ensuing years of the war.
The audio book, read by Zach Appelman, is poetic, the words lilting and beautifully rendered, a perfect accompaniment to the novel.
Marie-Laure Blanc, a teenager blind since age 6, and her father flee Paris when the city comes under siege from the Germans. The pair take refuge in Saint-Malo with Marie-Laure’s uncle, who suffers from agoraphobia resulting from shell shock in the first World War.
Prior to leaving Paris, Marie-Laure’s father, the keeper of the keys in a museum there, created miniature models of their neighborhood to help his daughter find her way around. Intelligent, sweet natured and courageous, Marie-Laure adores her father, and mourns him endlessly when he leaves Saint-Malo on an unexplained mission, failing to return. Marie is left in the care of her uncle and the housekeeper, as the war escalates and the Germans occupy Saint-Malo.
Marie’s narrative is intertwined with that of Werner Pfennig, orphaned after his father dies in the mines. The boy has a gift for building and operating radios, a skill that makes him indispensable to the Nazis.
When Werner is admitted to a select school for Hitler youth, he appreciates the preferential treatment he receives. That gradually changes as he sees instructors encouraging students to torment weaker boys. Cracks widen in the foundation of Werner’s loyalty to the Nazis when his brave best friend is cruelly victimized for refusing to abuse another student.
Marie and Werner’s stories are equally soulful and addictive. Add a driven Nazi obsessively trying to find an enormous diamond once housed in a Paris museum, and other brilliantly drawn characters, and you’ve got a book that continues to hold mass appeal.
“All the Light You Cannot See” continues to reside on my “favorites” bookshelf. Some years after the novel was published, I had the opportunity to visit gorgeous Saint-Malo and the book really came to life in my head.
Though reviews of the new Netflix miniseries of “All the Light You Cannot See” aren’t very positive, long-time admirers of Doerr’s novel appear to be thumbing their noses at the critics—the discrepancy apparent on Rotten Tomatoes, an online professional critic review site.