Previously published in the Canon City Daily Record on April 25, 2015.
All the Light We Cannot See has spent 50 weeks on The New York Times Besteller List and just has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And for good reason. As soon as I finished the 530th page, I immediately turned back to the beginning. I had to read it again. It is a beautiful book that I did not want to end.
Anthony Doerr's tightly knit story began as a simple idea: a blind girl reading to a boy over a radio, and developed into a gorgeous World War II novel of depth and honesty.
The striking cover was my original attraction to the book. It is a photograph of the town of Saint-Malo in France, but it is not traditional black and white. It is many shades of blue. The lyrical title is in pure white font, bright, above the horizon. Still, I put the book down and walked away. I didn't want to read another book about World War II.
I am glad I was again pulled to it, for this is not your average World War II story. There is no discussion of the Holocaust or the Japanese. It is not about the British or the North African front. It concentrates on these two children and how their experiences overlap, even running headlong into each other. It is about the intersection of human hearts.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc has been blind for ten years and learns to find her way around the neighborhood by scale models built by her father, the Master of Locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Werner Pfennig, an orphan in a German mining town, finds that his talent for radios lands him in an elite Nazi-run school, where he is forced into an existence that confuses and overwhelms him.
Mr. Doerr's details and imagery are crafted in such a way that I was swept into the world of Marie-Laure, blind, working in the Resistance, seeking to do the right thing. At the same time, I was drawn into the dark and celebrated world of Werner, and his path - finding and destroying those resistant to Hitler. These children are caught up in a very "grown-up" war. They are called to make decisions that both cost and save lives.
I found that the short chapters and shifting points of view create a fast-paced book. It is sweeping and cinematic, but, at the same time, small and focused. There is suspense and grief - with moments of celebration and hesitation. It is about the strength of a seaside town against a giant enemy and a jewel called the Sea of Flames. It is about the power of radio as propaganda to the poor, the masses, the foot soldiers. It invites us to examine what we choose when we are alone and the decisions we make in the presence of others.
With realistic characters and a surprise ending, this story challenges the notion that the difference between good and evil is clear in people. People are not so polar. They cannot be. For people are filled with "all the light we cannot see."