The Beauty of “All the Light We Cannot See”

All the Light We Cannot See, written by Anthony Doerr, begins its very first lines as such: “At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses.” Just that could make someone want to read further, to see what these things are, what could possibly be moving so quickly, so artfully through the sky.

It is a beautifully written book with sentences that made me want to read them out loud; I could not keep their beauty unspoken. It tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl with congenital cataracts, and Werner, a German orphan during the Nazi occupation of France. Marie-Laure is the daughter of the principle locksmith of the National Museum of Natural History and Werner is a young boy who can build radios out of scraps, only to be taken into an academy for Hitler Youth to utilize his skills in the war effort.

Each chapter is only two to three pages long, discussing either of their stories, while leaving the reader in a state of suspense because of how short the chapters are, filling in gaps in the plot, but leaving just enough room to make the reader question and thirst for an answer.

Marie-Laure and her father soon flee Paris as the Germans come in, going towards Saint-Malo, a walled port city, only to be followed by the Germans there, looking for a fantastically white diamond her father had that was called the “Sea of Flames,” described as being “surfaced by hundreds of facets.” Her father also creates replicas of the city to scale, so Marie-Laure could know where she lived by touch. She could understand how to get around places because of the labors of her father.

Werner is raised with his sister in a disease-infested orphanage, with little nourishment provided. Soon, his skills at radio repair become well-known and he is then forced to become an asset to the German army by being able to locate enemy radios and hence their own whereabouts.

As the book progresses, beautifully developing each character until a reader may feel as though he/she intimately knows them, Marie-Laure and Werner grow up, with their stories finally coming together when the latter arrives in Saint-Malo.

It is an original take on the overarching theme of World War II, focusing on individual lives and how it might have been to live through it. The stories are tragic and poignant, evoking a swirl of emotions throughout. They easily connect to the reader, helping to draw out empathy as the characters become more alive with each page. It is a book to be read and reread in order to fully capture the beauty of its sentences and the meanings of its many metaphors and images.

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