A Book Worth Reviewing: All the Light We Cannot See

by Miranda Brumbaugh


Finally. I've finished it! I only say this in excitement because I had to borrow the book copy of "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr from the library. This Pulitzer Prize winner entailed getting on a wait list a hundred readers long. Once I got the copy in hand, this gave me 21 days to finish it--no renewals possible. I also cut corners by getting on the eBook waiting list, and lo and behold, both versions became mine within the same week. 

Highly recommend doing that if you have a read that everyone else wants to read, too.

Reading like a beast, I did, I devoured the words on those 531 pages. What I wouldn't give to read books this great Every day.

all the light we cannot see by anthony doerr

Remember Readers: Content is King

When reading a book, what you want is a story, not just some action-packed, no feeling fluff. The story here whipped everyone else's tail:

  • Based in France and Germany during World War 2, the story follows two children, both living completely different lives.

  • A blind French girl lives alone with her history museum caretaker father who is Father of the Year.

  • A German boy living in an orphanage with dreams of being a scientist as a way to escape his horrid future, as a coal miner who would no doubt die in the same suffocating manner as his own dad, hundreds of black feet deep. 

The story follows these two children as they experience two completely different sides of the war. One child is forced to the front as a Nazi in Germany. The other child blindly battles the demons of isolation, abandonment, starvation in Saint-Malo.

How this story keeps itself from becoming the darkest thing since sliced pumpernickel is through the plot.

Saint-Malo after the 1944 bombing

Saint-Malo after the 1944 bombing

Pushing Forward with the Plot

The first thing the author did to keep the tension tight, but not strangulation level, is by cutting chapters into 1 or 2 pages. You read, you absorb, you pause, then if time and emotions permit, you move forward at your own pace. 

The next thing Doerr did is write like a champion. I have never read so many different versions of action verbs used in a single book, all working their magic to bring the story to life. Then the descriptives.

Holy.

Here's a passage to describe Dr. Geffard:

p. 29 "...Dr. Geffard, an aging mollusk expert whose beard smells permanently of damp wood. Dr. Geffard will stop whatever he is doing and open a bottle of Malbec and tell Marie-Laure in his whispery voice about reefs he visited as a young man: the Seychelles, Belize, Zanzibar. He calls her Laurette; he eats a roasted duck every day at 3 p.m.; his mind accommodates a seemingly inexhaustible catalog of Latin binomial names."

This, my reader, is not your average "His name was...he had brown hair and blue eyes and loved walks along the seashore at sunset." This. This writing by Doerr illuminates the story in such a way that your emotions have no choice but to climb on board and take this trip wholeheartedly.  

And this, This introduction to Werner, the Nazi-to-be: 

p. 24 "Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, are raised at Children's House, a clinker-brick two-story orphanage on VIktoriastrasse whose rooms are populated with the coughs of sick children and the crying of newborns and battered trunks inside which drowse the last possessions of deceased parents: patchwork dresses, tarnished wedding cutlery, faded ambrotypes of fathers swallowed in mines."

This tells you so much more than just the character. It tells you of the social structure, the dire straits, of the child who would find very few paths in his future, forcing him into a life indescribable. 

Then we get to the scenes. OK, so it seems we must have read everything there is to read about the horrors of Holocaust, right? This time period has been hashed out in literature, nonfiction, films and graphic novels.

Yet "All the Light We Cannot See" takes every single thing we haven't talked about during Europe in WW2 and brings it to the surface. You'll read scene after scene detailing very real events that you simply haven't read about or thought about before.

It is uncanny, I tell you.

A must read, if there was ever a must.