Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure LeBlanc was only 6 years old when she lost her sight to severe cataracts. She lives in Paris with her father, a master locksmith who created a scale model of their local area so that she could memorise the roads, buildings, trees, benches and storm drains by feel, allowing her to safely navigate between his office at the natural history museum and their home.

Werner Pfennig is an orphan who lives in Frau Elena’s children’s home with his sister Jutta. One day he finds and brings home a broken radio set, and by pure instinct takes it apart and repairs it. Soon he becomes a highly sought-after radio repairman – even though he is only 13 years old. His talent for electronics comes to the attention of local authorities, who recommend him for admission to an elite academy that prepares German boys for military service.

When Marie-Laure is 12, the German army invades Paris, forcing her and her father to flee to Saint-Malo, where her Great Uncle has hidden himself away since coming back shell-shocked from the First World War, with an extensive collection of radios of his own. As the war draws to a close, Werner also finds himself posted in Saint-Malo…

Both Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories are told in a series of flash-backs and flash forwards, revisiting episodes from their childhoods and their wartime experiences, focusing on the final days before the liberation of Saint-Malo by the Americans. In spite of the fractured nature of the storylines, I didn’t find it at all hard to follow. Anthony Doerr has created characters who are well-rounded and easy to care about. Marie-Laure is a bright and inquisitive girl who rarely allows her limitations to get the better of her. Werner is also extremely clever, and his party loyalty is often challenged by his disgust of the injustices he sees occuring around him, and his fears for his sister’s safety.

I won’t say much more, except that I really enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, and would recommend it to fans of dramatic novels and wartime stories.

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