Saturday, January 23, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published in 2014, was last year's high-buzz book.  I seemed to see it reviewed everywhere and my turn for the audiobook finally came up at the library at the end of December after being on the wait list for at least 8 months.

It's one of those books that has two main characters and the narrative alternates between telling their respective stories.  This adds time changing, forward and backward, to the mix, making it a bit disjointed at times, but ultimately it works as the stories find their focus in a common point in time.

In a nutshell, the book tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager who flees Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII with her father to the coastal town of Sant-Malo, and Werner Pfenick, a German radio whiz-kid who is recruited into the Nazi Youth organization and specializes in tracking down illegal radio transmitters within the French resistance.

I found many things to like about this book.  I liked the sight and color imagery and themes, the various puzzles (engineering and otherwise) that both Werner and Marie-Laure learn to solve, and the natural science elements including the connection to Jules Verne's 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

On the downside, I didn't care for the disjointed narrative--I was fine with the two stories being told alternately but the jumping around in time was a bit irritating.  I guess I just like my stories more linear.

Finally, most of my knowledge of WWII is from the Anglo-American perspective, so it was fascinating to read the German and French perspectives.   I'm now ready to dive into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I would love to learn more about the French resistance.

And, I decided to read 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea as part of my Back to the Classics challenge for that tricky Sci Fi category.

I love it when one book leads to others.


  1. I've borrowed this book from the library twice now and returned it unread both times. Starting to wonder if I'm actually avoiding it or maybe just getting tired of alternating story lines/viewpoints...

  2. I liked this book all the way up until the end...and then I didn't like it quite as much. Which is too bad, because now I never know whether to recommend it, or not. But I did like Doerr's writing. Hope you enjoy the Jules Verne. That's the one book of his I haven't read.

  3. I thought it was interesting to read from a German's perspective in this one; it's always good to remember that not all of the people in an enemy country necessarily want to be part of the conflict.

  4. I have heard a lot of good things about this book. Disjointed narratives seem very popular these days. I can see how too much of it in a book would become annoying.

    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is such an important and monumental history books. I learned so much from it. It is really big. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it when you are finished.

  5. I found the imagery in this book excellent. I particularly liked the radio aspects of the story — how radio transmitters were used by both sides — and how Werner’s passion for radios and science and Marie’s passion for Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” eventually brings them together. My only caveat is that it could have been a bit shorter.

  6. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman was like this for me last year, another book stirring my interest in further reading on WWI, both fiction and non-fiction. Its story was linear and I appreciated the clarity that brought, leaving the focus on the characters' emotional crisis.