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Summary and book reviews of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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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About this Book

Book Summary

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Award for Fiction.

Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Award for Fiction

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

Zero
7 August 1944

Leaflets

At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.

The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars.

Bombers

They cross the Channel at midnight. There are twelve and they are named for songs: Stardust and Stormy Weather and In the Mood and Pistol-Packin' Mama. The sea glides along far below, spattered with the countless chevrons of whitecaps. Soon enough, the navigators can discern the low moonlit lumps of islands ranged along the horizon.

France.

Intercoms crackle. Deliberately, almost lazily, the bombers shed ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Ten years in the writing, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See is an epic work of historical fiction. With richly detailed language and characters who are both brave and heartbreaking, Doerr weaves together the stories of a French girl named Marie-Laure who has lost her eyesight and a German orphan named Werner. As Hitler's occupied territory grows, Marie-Laure and Werner's lives and families are torn apart by the war, yet this gorgeous novel is the story of people who, against the odds, find good in one another.


Topics & Questions for Discussion
  1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and...
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  • award image

    BookBrowse Awards
    2014

  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2015

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    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2015

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It took ten years to write this book. Meticulously researched, Doerr recreates the most intimate details of his characters’ worlds. The novel stands as a crash course in physics and math, radio communications, birds, the physiology and psychology of blindness, the anatomy of mollusks, and the education of Hitler Youth’s elite. Despite these excursions, the writing never seems forced, self-conscious, or pedantic. Rather, the knowledge is integrated into scenes, as necessary and natural as the description of a lock of hair, an article of clothing. With devastating prose, All the Light We Cannot See explores the human consequences of war and the lethal choices we must make when held in its grip.   (Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

Full Review Members Only (1208 words).

Media Reviews

O, The Oprah Magazine

Incandescent…Mellifluous and unhurried…Characters as noble as they are enthralling. Doerr looms myriad strains into a luminous work of strife and transcendence.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If a book's success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize–winner Doerr's novel triumphs on both counts.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Shifting among multiple viewpoints but focusing mostly on blind French teenager Marie-Laure and Werner, a brilliant German soldier just a few years older than she, this novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Booklist

Starred Review. A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed.

Author Blurb M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans
A tender exploration of this world's paradoxes; the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time. The language is as expertly crafted as the master locksmith's models in the story, and the settings as intricately evoked. A compelling and uplifting novel.

Author Blurb Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
This jewel of a story is put together like a vintage timepiece, its many threads coming together so perfectly. Doerr’s writing and imagery are stunning. It’s been a while since a novel had me under its spell in this fashion. The story still lives on in my head.

Author Blurb J.R. Moehringer, author of Sutton and The Tender Bar
Wildly suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, Doerr’s new novel is that novel, the one you savor, and ponder, and happily lose sleep over, then go around urging all your friends to read—now.

Reader Reviews

Linda B.

"All the Light We Cannot See"
This book mesmerized me. I just finished it -- am in a profound daze and having trouble reorienting myself to my date, time, place, and life. It is one of the most compelling books I've ever read.

S.L. B.

One of the very best books I have read
When I saw this book, I was attracted to it being about a blind girl in World War 2 but the book has bought so much to me. It has bought a more lively sense of awareness about the war, how it really was. The short chapters were like a breath of fresh...   Read More

Barbara

A Surprise
I had not read anything by Anthony Doerr prior to this book. I simply picked it up because it looked interesting. I was very impressed. Almost every two pages switches from one main character, the blind French girl, to the other main character, ...   Read More

Kay

Too confusing the last quarter of the book.
I really liked over half of the book, but then it to me was too confusing. It kept jumping back and forth in time and place.

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Saint Malo

History of Saint Malo

Saint Malo MapThe siege and subsequent burning of Saint Malo during World War II is intrinsically bound to the island's history. Saint Malo is a scenic and historic port city nestled in the crook of Brittany's arm on the North coast of France. According to "St-Malo an independent travel guide," Saint Malo was founded in the 1st century BCE, a short distance to the south of the current city. Coveted for its strategic location at the mouth of the Rance River, the town was first fortified by Celtic tribesmen and later by the Romans. In the sixth century, Celtic Bishop, Maclou or MacLow, who was later canonized as Saint Malo, co-founded a monastic order on the rocky island that would later take his name. In the twelfth century, ...

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