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Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

20th December, 2015

Book Review: All the Light we Cannot see by Anthony Doerr

An ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy who cross paths in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. The stunning imagery interspersed with breathless moments make this one a true winner. The book won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2015.


What do you do when you pick up a book about war and stumble onto sentences like, “The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold”, peaches described as “wedges of wet sunlight” and destruction as “At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea”? Savour the book is what anyone would do and that is just what I did. This Pulitzer winning novel is a true delight to the senses tracing the times before and after the German occupation of France.

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

The story follows the lives of Werner, an orphan boy who fights his destiny to be sent to the mines and Marie-Laure, the blind daughter of a locksmith, who is forced to find refuge at Saint Malo during the war. Werner secures a place at the military school because of his skill at repairing radios and Marie-Lurie struggles through her handicap to lead a normal life. While we sympathize with Werner’s choice to fight for the Nazis in order to fulfill his desire to learn engineering, we find ourselves weeping for Werner’s best friend Frederik, an avid bird watcher, who can’t deny his human sensitivity, leaving him to suffer the tragic consequences. You cannot help admiring the courage of Werner’s younger sister, Jutta who resists the call to nationalism, her words pricking his conscience throughout his life. The world of Marie, though blind, who may or may not be under the curse of a diamond named “Sea of Flame” that her father is entrusted with by the Museum of Natural History, Paris, is recorded brilliantly, detached from repetitive stereotypes often penned down by writers. The narrative moves back and forth in time and as we read on, knowing the end that befalls the characters, we feel terrified for them, wishing we could help them in any way we can.

Book Review: All the Light we Cannot See

Doerr constructs a beautiful story, complete with elements of superstitions surrounding the curse of a diamond, inventions of technology, puzzles and miniature models that hide secrets within them, the allure of snails and mollusks, the science of evolution of carbon and above all the innate goodness of hearts that we cannot see. The writing is poetic, chapters very short and story bewitching. Be it the interplay of emotions of those fleeing for safety or the moral ambiguities of those at war about right and wrong, Doerr captures all of it in this well crafted story.

“How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?”

This is such an amazing read. It is one of the best books of 2015! I loved every minute reading this book. Read it!

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher : Fourth Estate
Published: 2015
Language: English
Pages: 544
Rating: 5/5

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All the Light We Cannot See

About the Author

Anthony Doerr’s first published book was a collection of short stories called The Shell Collector (2002). Many of the stories take place in Africa and New Zealand, where he has worked and lived. His other works include About Grace (2004) and Memory Wall (2010). In 2007 Granta placed Doerr on its list of the “21 Best Young American novelists”. Doerr’s second novel, All the Light We Cannot See, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. The book was a New York Times bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.

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This Post Has 34 Comments
  1. I really love your review. I’m so glad you loved this! I completely agree with you on the fact that we can’t help but feel for these characters. For all of them, even side characters like Frederik. I felt so horrid while reading about some of those things. I also really liked the fact that while Werner does what he thinks is right, his little sister does what she thinks is right: and both outcomes are so different! I wish I could’ve gotten to know her better.

    1. Yes. Werner’s sister is such an inspiration. Even though she is going through not-so-good circumstances, she thinks about the whole of humanity and not just her country. The outcomes of the war that befall her tore my heart apart.

  2. Great review, thanks for posting. I’ve put off buying this book as my neighbor promised to lend it to me. Look’s like I’ll need to remind them to send it over the street. Cheers, Nadia

    1. That’s great. You should read this one. Its lovely. The worst part as I have written in the review is that you know how things are gonna end and you want to lend a helping hand to the characters, but you can’t. That’s the worst part as well as the beauty of the book

    1. I totally agree with you. Sometimes we feel Werner is right since if he doesnt get into military school he will end up in mines and have a terrible life. But then there is Jutta who faces similar sitauations yet believes war is bad. It was heart breaking when she had her turn of bad things inspite of being so good. Werner’s decision strains his relationship with his sister, but deep inside they still love each other inspite of their choices. And Frederick’s fate was sorrowful too. This book itself is a war of right and wrongs.

    1. Thank you for visiting Erin. A friend recommended this book to me and frankly speaking, looking at the cover I didn’t think I wold enjoy the book. But once I started reading, I was blown away by the language Doerr uses to describe the two sides of the war, the tug of war in every soldier’s mind and everything else. The part of the curse of the diamond does lend a magical charm to the story.

  3. ahhhh I LOVE YoUR PHOTOS. They are so nicely focused and soft around the edges and afdjskalfd I am having seriously photo-love here. XD Ahem. But onto the book. Yes. *nods* I have this on reserve at the library!! Only…30 people in front of me now. -_- SO it’s definitely going to be a while, but hopefully worth the wait. I’m glad you loved it so much! 😀
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    1. Thank you so much Cait. Your comments really make my day become so much better and I start singing ‘tra-la-la-la-la’ in my head. :D. Too bad you are in a long queue. Hope the wait is worth it. I heard some people found the book a bit dragging. Perhaps it is because we know the end at the beginning of the book itself, and the rest is a series of events that happened in the past that influence the things happening in the present. (I hope that made sense) But if you like a bit of poetic language in books, this will definitely be an enjoyable read. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

    1. SO glad to hear you loved the book too Jenna. This book amazed me with its writing. The language is so beautiful- not too harsh yet portraying the tragedy of war and the beauty of hope. It was so difficult to choose the quotes because the book is full of such lovely ones.Open a page and out spill a dozen lovable quotes!

  4. Your photos are gorgeous! I agree that the writing is gorgeous, I think his analogies worked really well thanks to his power over words, and the imageries were especially fitting for Marie-Laure. I did feel that because the proses were so lyrical and the themes almost fairy-tale like, the book did romanticise the war a little. Although as I have a weak stomach for horror, I’m glad the more upsetting scenes took place off-page. Great review!

    1. Thank you! I do agree with you. Doerr does romanticize the war a little bit. But I liked his way of putting the tragedies and horrors of war in milder words. Sorry for the delay in replying. I was on vacation. Happy new year to you. 🙂

  5. Wow, this sounds like a heartbreakingly gorgeous story. I don’t read war novels much, but this one sounds like something special. 🙂

    Thanks for visiting my blog!


    1. You do have a lovely blog. 🙂 This one is different from other war stories. The writing is more poetic and mild, but still gives you a glimpse of what tragedies are in store for both sides in a war. Sorry for replying to you so late. I was on vacation. Thanks for visiting and wishing you a great New year ahead.

  6. Wonderful review, Resh Susan! Beautiful stories are the best. I haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See but I do plan to since so many people seem to love it (Jenna at Reading with Jenna has recommended to me so much). Not to mention it’s a Pulitzer winner so it has be good, right?

    By the way, I love the photos on your blog. Simply gorgeous!

    1. Thank you dear! Yes, this book is gorgeous. I have not enjoyed a book on war this much. Perhaps the horrors of the war are put in milder words. But this one does capture your heart. I am sure you will enjoy it. Sorry for such a late reply. I was on vacation. Hope your New year goes awesome!!

  7. I read The Book Thief last year, and it was so, so good. I wanted to read this one also, but I have a rule for myself. Only one WW2 themed book a year, otherwise I just get so sad. Can’t wait to pick it up this year though 🙂

  8. Aha! THIS book is on my TBR shelf, too! Maybe I will ignore the other seven I listed and start this once since it’s more along the lines of what I’ve been reading. So glad I stopped by and read your review!

  9. Resh, I too absolutely loved this book, the writing is magnificent. Anthony Doerr grew up in Cleveland, where I did too. He has a collection of short stories you might want to read some time, several have nature themes and he does that so well. Thanks for stopping by my book blog and following, so nice to meet you!

    1. Wow. That is great. From the way it is described in the book, Saint-Malo must be a very beautiful place. Yes, you should definitely pick this up. It puts across the horrors and tragedies of war in such poetic prose that makes you grieve about the same.

  10. This is a lovely review. I like how you went beyond reiterating the plot and provided your own insights. I can’t wait to pick it up and read it for myself now 🙂

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