All the Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr

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I swear I thought this book was never going to end. I guess that’s one of the things about ebooks; since you’re not holding them in your hands, you can’t tell how long they are, unless, of course, you check the page count, which I don’t because book length isn’t super important to me.


Now, this novel is not at all what I was expecting, not that I went in with a lot of expectations as I bought the ebook over a year ago after seeing how popular it was and skimming some of the reviews. Also, I wanted to branch out and read some non-romantic novels in my efforts to become a more varied reader and stretch my mind as a person. With all of that said…

This book is not heartbreaking, but it definitely leaves you with a vague sense of loss.

It is descriptive.

It has beautiful language.

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…

This is how the story opens: lulling the reader with its words. These well-polished words continue throughout the story despite the subject matter of the novel. “Belle laide. Beautiful ugly.” An excellent way to describe the brunt of this story: ugly subject matter wrapped in appealing language.

The time jumps back and forth are disconcerting and dizzying at first, but as you become familiar with the story and characters, you can get used to it. Can meaning it is possible, if you dedicate yourself to reading it. I think it’s worth the effort, just because of the historical perspective of the book, which gave me a better understanding of how the Holocaust happened (the kind of people and mindsets that were needed to make the war function).

I did find it very disappointing that our two main characters, the German boy and our French-speaking teen, Marie do not spend very much time together. This one thing will make this book a lot different from most novels most people have ever read. It is essentially two totally different stories that have a brief crossover period and then closes with the repercussions of that brief meeting. Though that moment when we finally have our main characters together is short, it is packed with a lot of meaning, is at the pique of the story, and offers a gut-wrenching twist that gave me a dull, empty feeling in my chest.

I’m no scientist or engineer, but the detail used when we follow the little German boy with a dream of being something greater than the miner his country doomed all boys of the lower-class to be, is both poetic and realistic, again, as far as I can tell without an extensive background in sciences.

Now, on to the disjointed section of my random thoughts about the book. Read this and you will get insight into:

  • The power and technique of brainwashing: Brainwashing was used on children who are isolated, trapped with other children away from outside influence and their families. They have their spirits and individuality crushed out and replaced with German pride (in this instance) and pressured into doing terrible acts for the “good of the country”.
  • The tricky balance of “good” versus “evil”: as the novel follows the stories of two children on the opposite sides of World War 2, the reader gets a good feeling for the effects that the lack of media and information have on people during war time. Focusing on individuals instead of the “big picture” of war, gives a new perspective of what it means to be on the right side of the fight. Our main characters do not know. Though the German boy suspects that what he is doing is wrong, because he continually crushes the conscience of his sister’s voice in his head and heart and ignores his own feelings during his time at “school”.
  • Measures are sometimes taken to protect cultural artifacts. This is just something I’ve never given much thought since I’ve never lived in a war zone, but when you’re planning on blowing a place to hell and back, apparently, it’s still important to snatch up anything of value that will be worth even more after most of the people in the warzone have been snuffed out.

“We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.” *sobs internally* Again, such beautiful language. Though I must repeat that this is not the sort of novel that tears your soul from your body, kicks it, and then shoves it back so that you can cry into the next novel, I think it is worth the read for its unique perspective on the effects of war on individuals and its beautiful language.

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