Monday, January 17, 2022

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

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See.  Anthony Doerr. Scribner (2014). 531 pages. Genre: Historical Fiction.  

First Lines: "At dusk they pour from the sky.  They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses."

Summary: The story begins in the days leading up to World War II and follows three characters.  

One is Marie-Laure, a young girl who has recently lost her sight.  Her father is teaching her how to get along in the world without her sight.  He teaches her to use her cane and count storm drains or other markers that help her know where she is.  Each day he takes her with him to his job at the National Museum of Natural History where he is the principal locksmith.  When the Nazis occupy Paris they flee to the house of Marie-Laure's great uncle in Saint Malo.

The second character is Werner, who is a young orphan living in a mining town in Germany.  He and his sister are raised at an orphanage.  When Werner finds a radio, he becomes fascinated with listening to the broadcasts and figuring out how it works.  When he turns fifteen, he will be sent to the mines.  This terrifies him because their father was killed in the mines.  When he is given the opportunity to attend the General's school, Werner accepts. Soon his skills are in demand helping the war effort.

The third character is the Sea of Flames, a rare gemstone kept at the Paris Museum.  There are several rumors and legends surrounding the gemstone.  When Paris is evacuated, the stone is removed from the museum.  No one knows exactly where it has been moved to.  It becomes the object of a search by the German army.

My thoughts:  This is a complex, multi-layered story with complex, multi-layered characters.  It is a beautifully written, easy to read story that I won't soon forget. 

One thing I loved about Marie-Laure and Werner was that they were both curious people who pursued their interests and taught themselves what they wanted to learn.  For Marie-Laure that was learning to get around Paris without the use of her eyes, reading Braille and learning about snails.  For Werner it was radio technology, science and mathematics.  Marie-Laure's father spends his free time making wooden models of the buildings and streets near their home.  He is creating a three-dimensional map for Marie-Laure so that she can learn where things are located.  

The realities of war are vividly described.  It is bleak and heartbreaking.  I could feel the hunger and thirst and fear of the characters.  However, even in the midst of this the author shows the beauty of music, of literature, of nature and science, of mathematics and the love of family.  

There was a lot to like about this story, however, there were some things near the end that seemed uncharacteristic to me and I was left feeling unsatisfied.  Even so, I would still highly recommend this book if you haven't read it.


"The girl climbs into the swing and pendulums back and forth, pumping her legs, and watching her opens some valve in Werner's soul.  This is life, he thinks, this is why we live, to play like this on a day when winter is finally releasing its grip."

"What wonders in this house! She shows him the transmitter in the attic: its old-fashioned electrophone, the hand-machined antenna that can be raised and lowered along the chimney by an ingenious system of levers.  Even a phonograph record that she says contains her grandfather's voice, lessons in science for children.  And the books!"


  1. Great review. I read this book last year and I liked it, but I also had unsatisfied feelings. Like you, I would recommend it.

  2. Great review, it sound intriguing. I love the cover!

  3. Now that I've read your review and the comments, I'm wondering about those unsatisfied feelings. Am I curious enough to read the book? Maybe...

    1. It is worth the read if you are curious enough...