By Anthony Doerr Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by AB 5/5 stars
For Christmas 2014, I received the Pulitzer-prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. The work is over 500 pages, and I read it in 48 hours. I know this is so cliché, but, really, it was difficult to put down, and I may have skipped out on a few games and movies with the extended family because I was so enthralled.
It’s not just another World War II novel.
As a history buff and the granddaughter of a machine gunner in Patton’s 4th Armored Division who, even at almost 96, is still a history guru himself, I feel like I “know” World War II. However, I’m the first to admit that I know sadly little about what it was like for young people in France and Germany during those years. Sure, I know about the Hitler Youth, and I know about the occupation of France, but I don’t think I’ve ever understood so clearly what it must have been like to live through that. I appreciated the much-needed (at least by me) insight into the Nazi Youth movement and, conversely, the view into the world of the French Resistance (picture a bunch of elderly women, not the young, romantic Hollywood portrayals we’re used to).
Doerr explores the issue of kids in a war zone, ones who are completely helpless to stand against the tide of evil; and yet his two main characters—a 14-year-old blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a teenage member of the Hitler Youth named Werner – in their own small ways fight back.
In addition, as one reviewer observed, Doerr knows something about everything. I learned more about WWII era radios and gemology than I knew was possible in a work of fiction.
The writing proves exquisitely rich.
I agree with readers who say that the prose is hauntingly lyrical, and the characters are certainly round and captivating, even if their “ends” don’t tie up nicely like I wanted. Doerr instead crafts a deliberate plot that rises to a realistic, beautiful climax. And with two separate storylines that run parallel to each other, Doerr creates slowly-building suspense and intersects the storylines only at the end when Marie-Laure and Werner meet.
If you enjoyed The Book Thief, you’ll be drawn to this one too. There’s a reason that this book repeatedly earns 5 star reviews. And won a Pulitzer.
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