Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Okay. I’m going to be brief about this. I listened to the audio, and first things are first: I loved the narrator’s voice and the way that, even though he was only one person, he brought each character to life. I loved, too, Frank Volkheimer. The entire time. I loved the strains of piano that concluded the reading, and the way each piece of seemingly random information clicked into place as you reached the climax. I can see why it took Doerr ten years to write this novel, and I can see why it won the Pulitzer- the writing was so elegant and the words wrapped around you like old friends or a worn favorite blanket. When I tried to read it, I got lost in those same words, but hearing them let me concentrate on the cadence and the tone rather than how to pronounce them.
What I did not love:
I became difficult, at times, to decipher who, what time period, what place each chapter took on, because there were so many, and there were few indicators. Reading would have been better for this, I think. I ended up spending a lot of time with my mind occupied in figuring out what had happened the last time we were with this character, in that place, in what time.
The convergence of Werner and Marie-Laure left something to be desired. You spend this entire book waiting, waiting for them to meet, and once they do….it’s only for a moment. I suppose that is meant to mimic the lives of real people, how one person or so many tiny coincidences can lead up to a single moment, and that can be beautiful, but in a book, it made everything I had wanted so badly to happen so fleeting and so lacking.
I also was frustrated by the ending. Like many adult books I have read, this seemed like a book written just for me- and then the other shoe drops. For me, with the limited scope of adult books I have picked up, be they critically acclaimed, award winners, or what have you, they seem to be the unhappy endings of an open-ended YA novel. Adult books seem to be written by the realists of the world, even when their imaginations have sparked beautiful worlds and legends and tales. All the Light We Cannot See was one of these. A lush, rich climax that left me excited to keep listening was replaced, not by an aching, open end, or a vague epilogue, but the harsh reality of life, the drudgery of the middle-aged left after the war and the hollowness that enclosed them. And maybe that’s beautiful to some people, maybe they like to read about the real lives of people, but I didn’t want my time to be so spent. It troubles me that now, I can’t even imagine a world where Werner and Marie-Laure even know each other, let alone where they are happy and bold and strong.
Obviously I had a few issues with this book. But Volkheimer, the rich historical details, and the beautiful writing made this book worth my time. I will give it four stars, simply because of those three things.
WHAT TO WATCH:
(SPOILERS) This is an adult book, so there were a few instances to look out for. With regard to violence, this was probably the most prevalent, since it is set in wartime. There were a few gruesome descriptions of deaths, and the training for Hitler’s army of youths is brutal. Werner is trained with regard to triangulating radio signals, only for his comrades to go in and kill the broadcasters.
There are also some sexually explicit jokes made by one of the soldiers in Werner’s company, and his younger sister, her guardian, and a few of her friends are raped by Russian soldiers.
The same man who makes explicit jokes also uses some foul language in a few instances, but the scenes with that person are not frequent.
So tell me what you thought of this Pulitzer! It wasn’t really my type of book, but I know it is well-loved by many. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all soon!