“All the Light that We Cannot See”- is a book about humanism; it explores how the bonds of humanity can surpass even the deadliest of wars. Anthony Doerr puts emphasis on his characters and their personal traits, rather than looking at guns etc. Marie- Laurie LeBlanc, is a young blind girl who has the most remarkable mind- and Werner Pfennig, a German Orphan, is a boy caught between obligation and his own interests in Science- particularly of radio transmissions. Both have interesting intellects- while Marie- Laurie can recognize situations based on smell and sound and can imagine the world in colour- Werner is self taught in radio transmitters- he can take apart a radio and put it back together at remarkable speeds. Marie- Laurie’s talent helps with her survival, Werner’s helps him gain the training he wanted and helps him fulfil his obligations as a German Youth.
Marie- Laurie’s father is inspiring and his love for his daughter is unconditional. When Marie- Laurie loses her sight, he obliges her by describing the world. Even at pressing times, when they are waiting at the train station- in fear of their lives- Daniel describes the other characters on the platform for her-
“What does it look like, Papa?”
“The station. The night”
“Let’s see. The whole city is dark. No streetlights, no lights in windows. There are projector lights moving through the sky now and then. Looking for airplanes. There’s a woman in a gown. And another carrying a stack of dishes.”
To help Marie- Laurie familiarize with her surroundings, he builds her a model of the city- which she uses as a map. It is also this model that hides the Sea of Flames- a valuable diamond. Since she has an eager mind, against odds, he buys her books in Braille and make puzzles she must solve to get a chocolate. Even after his imprisonment, he continues to write to his beloved daughter- constantly feeding her mind. I think it is because of this parental guidance, she becomes a successful employee at The Museum of Natural History– the same museum her father worked.
Although Germany is invading France at the time of this novel, and although these two characters are supposed to be enemies- they connect and bond. Werner can rescue Marie-Laurie who has managed to hide from German soldiers and bring her to safety. This event in the book is very Americanized in its depiction…Werner kills the Big Bad Soldier and rescues the blind helpless damsel in distress.
While Doerr does succeed in making this a story about humanity- and our human bonds- he doesn’t impress me with his sentence structures or word choices. I would say that his sentences resemble static in radio waves- however, the length of this book is unjustifiable. Doerr often uses an adjective for the sake of word count. While this didn’t bother me as much during my first read of the book-it truly annoyed me on my second read. Why does almost every noun require an adjective? Is he trying to be James Joyce with his imagery- except he failed with that- Joyce’s writing is much more tolerable!
Structure and Americanization aside, this book does succeed in keeping readers intrigued. It does tell a “new” story about a historical event- the invasion of France. This book is about the war- but it is not about the warfare, guns and politics- it is about the humans at heart.