Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See


Author: Anthony Doerr

Published: January 15th 2015 by Fourth Estate (First published May 6th 2014)


Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.


“… so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.”

All the light we cannot see. That one line in the book sums up perfectly what the title meant and what the story entails. A book weaved around science, the war and a diamond. A mesmerizing story about how reality crashes into a child’s life and at the same time how humans hold on to myths and legends.

When I first set my eyes on this book, I thought that it would be about a forbidden relationship between a French blind girl and a German soldier. But I didn’t expect it to be about the lives of the normal citizens of France and Germany; people who are not looking forward to war and people who just want to continue living their normal lives peacefully.

It was saddening to see how boys who are barely teenagers are sent to elite training schools while believing there is no greater honor than to be chosen to enter those institutions. Werner convinced himself that there was where he belonged; a place where he could polish his gifts but while he managed to do that, he became more riddled with doubts and guilt. Somehow when reading about his life and thoughts in school, I wonder if there were other cadets like him who felt that there was something amiss in what they were doing.

Marie Laure had a hard life too, although she pulled herself up. Robbed of her eyesight at an early age, I felt that the only reason she continued trying to live a normal life was because her father was there with her. He was an encouraging presence and always patient. He painstakingly made a model of the town they lived in to help and show Marie Laure that there’s still hope yet; that losing one’s sight doesn’t mean that she can’t live normally. Even during the war, Marie Laure remains a light for everyone who comes to know her. I felt that she was the one constant thing in the book where everything else seems to fall apart in those times.

In the whole story, the part where Werner and Marie Laure meet each other was only a small part but what made it so interesting was the life they lived up to the point when they meet. I really loved reading about their childhood and how the author alternate between talking about them before and during the war. The comparisons between those two times and the extend they have to grow becomes more evident.

My attention was capture entirely by this book but at the same time, I didn’t want it to end. I read as slow as I could, thus allowing myself to fully envision each described scene in my head. All the Light We Cannot See concentrates more on the lives of the soldiers and the citizens during the times of war instead of the war itself, which makes it a more compelling read.

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