Excerpt from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See
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  • Published:
    May 2014, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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Print Excerpt


Instead she returns to the table at the foot of the bed and kneels beside the model of the city.

Again her fingers find the outer ramparts, the Bastion de la Hollande, the little staircase leading down. In this window, right here, in the real city, a woman beats her rugs every Sunday. From this window here, a boy once yelled, Watch where you're going, are you blind?

The windowpanes rattle in their housings. The anti-air guns unleash another volley. The earth rotates just a bit farther.

Beneath her fingertips, the miniature rue d'Estrées intersects the miniature rue Vauborel. Her fingers turn right; they skim doorways. One two three. Four. How many times has she done this?

Number 4: the tall, derelict bird's nest of a house owned by her great-uncle Etienne. Where she has lived for four years. Where she kneels on the sixth floor alone, as a dozen American bombers roar toward her.

She presses inward on the tiny front door, and a hidden catch releases, and the little house lifts up and out of the model. In her hands, it's about the size of one of her father's cigarette boxes.

Now the bombers are so close that the floor starts to throb under her knees. Out in the hall, the crystal pendants of the chandelier suspended above the stairwell chime. Marie-Laure twists the chimney of the miniature house ninety degrees. Then she slides off three wooden panels that make up its roof, and turns it over.

A stone drops into her palm.

It's cold. The size of a pigeon's egg. The shape of a teardrop.

Marie-Laure clutches the tiny house in one hand and the stone in the other. The room feels flimsy, tenuous. Giant fingertips seem about to punch through its walls.

"Papa?" she whispers.

Cellar

Beneath the lobby of the Hotel of Bees, a corsair's cellar has been hacked out of the bedrock. Behind crates and cabinets and pegboards of tools, the walls are bare granite. Three massive hand-hewn beams, hauled here from some ancient Breton forest and craned into place centuries ago by teams of horses, hold up the ceiling.

A single lightbulb casts everything in a wavering shadow.

Werner Pfennig sits on a folding chair in front of a workbench, checks his battery level, and puts on headphones. The radio is a steelcased two-way transceiver with a 1.6-meter band antenna. It enables him to communicate with a matching transceiver upstairs, with two other anti-air batteries inside the walls of the city, and with the underground garrison command across the river mouth.

The transceiver hums as it warms. A spotter reads coordinates into the headpiece, and an artilleryman repeats them back. Werner rubs his eyes. Behind him, confiscated treasures are crammed to the ceiling: rolled tapestries, grandfather clocks, armoires, and giant landscape paintings crazed with cracks. On a shelf opposite Werner sit eight or nine plaster heads, the purpose of which he cannot guess.

The massive staff sergeant Frank Volkheimer comes down the narrow wooden stairs and ducks his head beneath the beams. He smiles gently at Werner and sits in a tall-backed armchair upholstered in golden silk with his rifle across his huge thighs, where it looks like little more than a baton.

Werner says, "It's starting?"

Volkheimer nods. He switches off his field light and blinks his strangely delicate eyelashes in the dimness.

"How long will it last?"

"Not long. We'll be safe down here."

The engineer, Bernd, comes last. He is a little man with mousy hair and misaligned pupils. He closes the cellar door behind him and bars it and sits halfway down the wooden staircase with a damp look on his face, fear or grit, it's hard to say.

With the door shut, the sound of the sirens softens. Above them, the ceiling bulb flickers.

Excerpted from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Copyright © 2014 by Anthony Doerr. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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