I know this story is fiction but it didn’t feel that way when I read it. In All The Light We Cannot See author Anthony Doerr tells a tale that uses the history of World War II, Germany, the Nazi regime, France, and two children who grow in the shadow of all the war brings.
We are first introduced to Marie-Laure LeBlanc as a six-year old in Paris in 1934. Before she reaches the age of seven she is blind. By the time 1940 arrives so have the Nazis. She and her father flee Paris on foot, first to her father’s colleague days away, but when they find he is also gone the journey continues to her ‘seventy-six percent crazy’ uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo.
Outside of Essen, Germany lives Werner Pfenning and his younger sister Jutta. Home is the “Children’s House”, an orphanage “whose rooms are populated with the coughs of sick children and the crying of newborns…” Werner is seven years old in 1934, with stark white hair, an undersized body for his age, and a mind that questions everything. By the time 1940 rolls around fourteen year old Werner has developed a knack, and a reputation, for fixing wireless radios – a skill that does not go unnoticed. He is taken from the home and sent to General Heissmeyer’s school, a training facility for Hitler Youth.
What brings this story alive for me is the intertwining of the lives of these children. Marie-Laure’s father has something the Nazi’s want. Werner’s job becomes one where he is sent to find the enemies. We follow their lives from 1934 through the war, and pick up the thread about thirty years later.
The characters felt believable and alive, almost as if the book could have been based on a true story though I know it’s not. I wanted the best for each child but could see how the circumstances led to the choices they made, sometimes being the choices that were made for them. The writing is beautifully descriptive; for example, “Doubts: slipping in like eels. Werner shoves them back.” Yet it has a great balance of dialogue, thank goodness, as I’m not a fan of pages and pages of endless narrative! The story moves at a good pace with every other chapter devoted to what is currently happening to only one of the main characters, Marie-Laure or Werner. I never felt lost or confused about what was going on or who I was reading about.
I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. Through the story we find light even when we cannot see it. It moved all of my emotions and kept my attention throughout. When you are done reading it tell me what you think! See book here.