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All the Light We Cannot See: Review

In August, 1944, the coastal city of Saint-Malo, France is bombed to annihilation.

Within this city hides a locksmith's blind daughter, trapped in the house of her great-uncle with a priceless secret in her pocket. Across the city, a young German soldier is buried in rubble and waiting to die. One, a victim of German occupation, the other, a victim of a soldier's doubt, the two have come from different worlds, connected by a thread and converging by fate. But the paths that have led to Saint-Malo are not paved by the war, by curse, or by circumstance . . . but by the light that burns in human hearts even through unfathomable darkness.

Historical fiction isn't typically my genre, but All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, was a heart-stirring novel that dazzled me from the start.

Flitting back and forth between two characters in two very different countries, Doerr creates an interesting paradox of contrast and symmetry. French Marie-Laure and German Werner lead extremely different lives dictated by extremely different circumstances, but Doerr still manages to bridge the distance between them. Marie-Laure's passion for literature and the sea matches Werner's love of mechanics, inventing, and science, while Marie-Laure's devotion to her father harmonizes with Werner's loyalty to his little sister. The parallels between these two lives were a stroke of genius on Doerr's part—even though I was tossed between perspectives, the story felt totally fluid and continuous.

I also thought Doerr's organization was brilliant. Short chapters, cleverly named and beautifully written, doled out plot in rapid-fire bursts that moved the story along so quickly it was almost impossible to pull from the current. Plot was suspenseful and complex; Doerr didn't hand out all the information at once and was often very subtle with his delivery.

From a writing standpoint, this book was masterful. I could fill a post with phrases that stood out for their elegance or powerful appeal to the senses. I was absolutely awestruck by Doerr's beautiful descriptions (most of which came from a blind protagonist!), and found myself jotting down examples for inspiration in my own writing. He had a unique, refreshing style that brought an extra sparkle to the story.

A couple things I wasn't crazy about: some unnecessary profanity and crude remarks in the last half of the book that I didn't feel needed to be there, and some directions the plot took that felt a bit, well . . . forced.


I was nevertheless enchanted by this book from the beginning, and though certain twists of plot weren't entirely to my liking, I would still rate it highly! The writing was full of feeling, the characters were vibrant, and a narrative that couldn't be further from my own life experience was made starkly, almost frighteningly real. It was an all-consuming read and a powerful work of historical fiction, a story that touches the heart, and a reminder of the light we shine when we choose goodness over evil.

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