All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Rating: 7/10

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

This book is a beautiful and melancholic story of the broken destinies of two young protagonists, during World War II. There is Marie-Laure, a French blind girl, forced to flee Paris and the routine of her safe and familiar life, with her father. And there is snow-haired Werner, a young German private, keen, resourceful and thrown in a war he doesn’t fathom.

“Your problem, Werner,”says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”

But this is also the story of thousands upon thousands of other victims of the war, ordinary people living ordinary lives until the war came and crashed their hopes and futures: orphans, brain-washed children, laborers, elderly, “collabos”… And it’s a tale about bravery and sacrifices, about solidarity, resistance, memories, about growing up and making impossible choices, about family and its unbreakable trust and ties, about the fleeing time and cherishing every precious moment…

To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.

There are a lot of life lessons in this book. And there are beauty, sensitivity and poetry to it. There are a lot of beautiful, touching and heart-wrecking moments.

To really touch something, she is learning—the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Entomology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop—is to love it.

And yet! Yet, I didn’t enjoy this read and I’m really sorry about it. Interminable sentences, convoluted writing style, painfully dragging parts made this book very difficult to read and appreciate. May be I should have read it in French and may be, it just wasn’t for me. The layout of the POVs made it easier (very short chapters) to go through but I was very frustrated with the main characters which were very well developed at the end of the book but very passive until may be 80% of it. And I regret that some of the interesting characters (Madame Manec, Etienne, Jutta…) didn’t have (or not enough) POVs.

The recognition is immediate. It is as if he has been drowning for as long as he can remember and somebody has fetched him up for air.

All in all, I loved and have been very touched by some extremely beautiful parts but it has been a depressing read for me and I was relieved to finish the book. Some books make me sad but in a good way but clearly not this one and I globally didn’t enjoy it!

Review by Haïfa.

3 thoughts on “All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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