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September 28, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - A Review

by Kathleen Barker

How do you choose a book to read?  Many of my friends laugh and tell me they simply pick up the next one in their "to-read" pile or list.  While some ask trusted friends for recommendations, many of us simply hit the "order" button when we read a post or a brilliant review.  While I have my own waiting stack, I recently chose a story because of the awards it had won and the nearly 25 thousand reviews on Amazon, which were overwhelmingly positive.  Indeed, many reviewers were rapturous.

The awards for Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See" are substantial:  2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller.  Despite all of these accolades, there are no guarantees that you will love it. And, let's face it, World War II stories can be weighty and depressing.  Can a story be both depressing and uplifting when it deals with the destruction of so many human beings?  In this case, I only wish that I had more than two thumbs to point upward.
Doerr's novel juxtaposes the story of a six-year-old French girl Marie-Laure who has gone blind with that of Wener, a German orphan with a near-genius understanding of science (particularly electrical engineering)).  For many chapters, we are not sure what one character has to do with the other as both lives are devastated by the Nazi war machine.  Marie-Laure's father is the curator of a museum, and he struggles to protect both his beloved daughter as well as a famous diamond known as the Sea of Flames from Hitler's destructive acquisition.  Werner is swallowed by the Hitler Youth organization as soon as he is old enough.  His genius is recognized and put to brutal use to seek out and destroy the source of broadcasts by the French Resistance.  

As the two characters move slowly to the point where their paths cross, Doerr's prose weaves a stunningly intricate tapestry of metaphor.  His poetic descriptions of feelings, thoughts and surroundings are a literary treasure.  Unlike many novels where we are carried on a juggernaut of action and plot to their inevitable conclusion, this is a story to read slowly - more than once, even - in order to savor its richness.  The author weaves the music of "Clair de Lune", Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the myth of a priceless diamond whose owner will purportedly live forever as long as he possesses it.  The story exudes richness in the midst of war's devastation.

Read it.  Treasure it.  It will make you an instant fan of Anthony Doerr's extraordinary talent.

Buy All the Light We Cannot See at Amazon

Kathleen Barker, features writer. Kathleen was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on "The Charm City Chronicles". All four volumes, "Ednor Scardens", "The Body War", "The Hurting Year", and "On Gabriel's Wings" are available in Amazon's Kindle store.

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