All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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This novel about WWII closely follows a blind French girl and a German soldier, switching between their perspectives and building anticipation for their short but crucial meeting in recently liberated Brittany. The legend of a priceless, cursed diamond lends a fairy-tale feeling to the story. Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, the locksmith for a museum who is entrusted with the diamond (or a decoy?) when Paris is taken. They flee to France’s west coast, and then her father is arrested, leaving Marie-Laure with her great-uncle and a housekeeper who is participating in the resistance to the Nazi occupation. Meanwhile, Werner, a German boy with a precocious talent for radios, leaves the orphanage where he grew up to enter a Nazi school, and eventually use his skills to hunt down resistance fighters. The villain is a cancer-ridden Nazi officer charged with finding the cursed diamond; the tension and suspense when Marie-Laure is hiding from him is almost unbearable. The book is sad, as any war story has to be, but somehow also full of wonder. Radio waves serve as a metaphor for a sense of connection between people; other repeated images are snails, shells, mollusks, and enclosed spaces. Marie-Laure and Werner share a fascination with the natural world. Werner and Marie-Laure’s great-uncle struggle to summon the courage to stand up and do the right thing, and when they do it’s incredibly satisfying. This book won the Pulitzer this year, and I think it deserved it.

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