AUDIO REVIEW: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

18352654

SUMMARY:

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.

MY THOUGHTS:

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!

CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE

“Courage…is the quality which guarantees all others.” – Winston Churchill

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

MY THOUGHTS:

Everyone needs to read this book right now. Go to your library, get your kindle, hit up amazon.com, whatever. Read it. Superbly written and researched, this book instantly topped my favorites list. Blankman has done an amazing job reconstructing 1930’s Germany, and this one was even more suspenseful and thrilling than Prisoner of Night and Fog, where we are first introduced to Gretchen and Daniel.

I will admit, my heart was broken a few times, and I don’t know if I have ever been so terrified reading a book as I was reading Conspiracy. It was a compelling read, though, giving us a look into the struggles of those associated with Hitler’s regime and really illustrating how cunning Hitler really was, manipulating unconnected events to garner support for his party- and ultimately, for his plans to start a war. I’ve never enjoyed books about this time period because I find to be simply too terrible to think about- that time was one of suffering and hate, and I don’t like to dwell on it. However, Blankman’s cast of characters pull you in, and the raw historical accuracy is irresistible. From the Reichstag fire to the Ringverein gangs, each well-researched detail adds a new piece to the puzzle of the turbulent times before Hitler took power over Germany.

As for Gretchen- well, I applaud her. There are very few books where the heroine doesn’t irritate me with her actions at least a few times, but this was one. Gretchen was willing to close down her emotions and do what had to be done without being asked, without complaining, with the utter selflessness that comes only from a person with true love for their friends, their family, and their fellow man. So many obstacles were thrown in her way, but even forced with the truth about her father and the desolation of losing the ones she loved, Gretchen pushed on, determined to save her homeland from the Nazi menace. Her loyalty to Daniel never wavered, even with his injury, and she only wanted him to be happy, doing what he loved with or without her. I can easily say that she was a fantastic main character for this story.

And Daniel- oh, Daniel, my dove, my angel, my warrior. I adore him. He had even more obstacles than even Gretchen- he stood accused of murder, his homeland was overrun with men who wanted him killed simply because of his race, his family disapproved of the girl he loved, and above all, his arm was torn to pieces by an injury while he was on the run. Any man with so much weight pushing him down would be well justified in letting someone else deal with the most hateful man in the world, but Daniel refuses. He decides instantly to go back to Germany himself and clear his name, leaving Gretchen behind in safety (even though she goes after him like true love demands). I love Daniel for different reasons than I usually love a hero- he’s smart and brave, thinks on his feet, and doesn’t even let Gretchen tell him what he can and cannot do.

As for the secondary cast, I must say that I loved them as well. The Ringverein especially, a gang of crooks that spread across Germany, dangerous enemies of the National Socialist (Nazi) party. “Iron Fist” Friedrich and his bunch are the perfect example of how the lines between right and wrong and good and bad blur when a nation is undergoing such trials as Germany in the 1930’s. They, in essence, are the rebels, fighting ‘the man’ or ‘the power’ but not in the misguided way that most people do today- these men were fighting Hitler’s engulfing reach and the way he ripped power from every corner. They did what was right in their own way, and I was sad to see them attacked (although the realistic nature of the book made it, really, necessary).

All in all, the only thing I can really think to say is this: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is one of the best books I have ever read, not only for the plot, but for the characters, the amazingly detailed historical facts, and the intensity of Blankman’s writing. And even for that little twist at the end that I will not think about because it made me cry. It all worked together to create one action-packed, breathtaking novel that keeps you in its grip long after the last page. Well done, Anne. Well done.

WHAT TO WATCH:

Although I highly recommend this book, it is only to mature readers with a strong stomach. Some of the realities of German life at that time are hard to swallow- men being beaten in the streets, people being shot only for having an opinion, poor girls working the streets as prostitutes and using cocaine to escape the reality of their lives. Although the prostitution and drug use are only touched on a few times, they do keep company with one of the girls who belonged to that lifestyle and she does snort cocaine a few times in the presence of Gretchen. I wouldn’t give this book to a young person to read, I don’t think, because that time really was horrible, and the research done means it’s accurate- even for me, that realization was a little bit overwhelming at times. Even so, I want as many people as possible to read and love and talk about this book that illustrates not only the strength of individuals, but also the resiliency of the human spirit.

Questions? Comments? Books you’d like me to review? Post a comment below and I’ll be sure to check it out!