book review: all the light we cannot see

📖 11 | 30

Read time: 3-5 minutes

Do you ever pick up a book specifically because you hear such high accolades and regards for it, but ultimately end up rather disappointed? Welcome to my 11th pick-up in my 2018 Reading Challenge.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr takes place during World War II and follows the tales of Marie-Laure, a blind teenager forced to flee with her father from Paris to the walled city of Saint-Malo to stay with her reclusive uncle; and Werner, a German soldier who uses his talents and knowledge of fixing radios to work his way to the front lines of the War.

The two unlikely characters cross paths because of one of the world’s most valuable jewel, the Sea of Flames stone. Marie-Laure’s father, the locksmith for the Museum of Natural History in Paris, was selected to carry the precious jewel through the War. Throughout Marie-Laure’s youth in a way to help her navigate her surroundings, her father would whittle and carve tiny replicas of houses and buildings in their neighborhood. Little did Marie-Laure know that the toy house would be the home of the valuable jewel.

Werner, an orphan, finds an old radio with his sister Jutta while living in Germany before the War. Taking an knack for tinkering and fiddling with the mechanics, he quickly works his way up the ranks of the youth army to assist in the front lines of finding enemy transmissions.

Doerr does an incredible job of illustrating the story, especially the passages about Marie-Laure. Taking away the sense of sight really helped heighten the other senses, physically making you able to smell the city burning and hear the gunshots and shells cascading from the sky with each page and Doerr nails the sensory writing perfectly, which is something I have yet to come across in my lifetime.

I’ve read a few pieces from this timeframe (World War II) and I guess I’m sensing a pattern within myself. I didn’t think there were many ways to tell stories about a major turning point in history, but it’s interesting to see the different perspectives. Not only of the French being forced out of their towns and uprooted from their normal lives, but also to see the side of the Germans, not realizing how much of a destruction they were to the communities around them because their leader had essentially brainwashed them to not believe otherwise.

I wish I made more of a connection with the characters and truthfully felt as if I was just reading this story for the sake of saying I finished it. I had a lot of high expectations because a few friends on GoodRead had rated it highly, but I had a hard time embedding myself into the story, which seemed to have a haphazard ending in my opinion. It seemed as if it could have ended better than what it did, but I’m not sure how I would have ended it.

After reading this story, I definitely understand why it spent some time at the top of the New York Times’ Best Seller list and even winning a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. It might not have been my favorite story, but it wasn’t a bad read in any regard either. Doerr made me a fan of his impeccable sensory writing, but I just didn’t make that lasting connection I had hoped for.

Rating: 3 out of 5

About sarah

25. writer. obsessed with makeup, french bulldogs, nyr and sparkle.
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