Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
From All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr:
Open quote 

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."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: A+

The fliers are dropped by Allied planes, intended for the inhabitants Saint-Malo, a medieval walled city on the Brittany coast of France. Saint-Malo is the last French port in the hands of the Germans in August, 1944. It's also where the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfennig, an under-age German radioman, are going to collide.

If you think, why do we need another WWII novel, especially one about children, think again. I cannot praise this novel too highly. It is at once a human interest story of the first order as well as a well-crafted thriller. The stories of Werner and Marie-Laure are told in interleaved chapters. Their stories draw ever closer and more suspenseful, from their separate childhoods until the book's climax in war-torn Saint-Malo.

The reader ends up really caring about these characters. You wish for a fairytale ending, but you can't know until the very end what Doerr is going to do with them -- after all, war is hell and WWII was the most hellish. Doerr masterfully balances these competing demands with a very satisfactory conclusion.

That said, there are some flaws. There's a subplot involving a missing museum diamond, a MacGuffin that serves mainly to add a suspense element to a story already adequately steeped in suspense. The main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, are complex characters, for children, but they are still just children. They are battered by the impersonal forces of war, never comprehending what's happening to their world, never in control. This makes the novel work better as young adult fiction, but probably keeps it from rising to the level of literary classic. But don't be misled. This book will hold the interest of young and old alike.

All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

All the Light We Cannot See reminds me of The Book Thief, another WWII novel starring a young girl and the 2013 choice for "Richardson Reads One Book." That program would do well to pick All the Light We Cannot See for a future selection.

All the Light We Cannot See is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)


Anonymous said...

I'll suggest we add this to the list of books we consider for future Richardson Reads One Book selections. I enjoy your reviews and am pleased that you make use of the library's ebook offerings.

Steve Benson

Mark Steger said...

Thanks for the feedback. For those who might not know, Steve is the former Director of Library Services for Richardson.