Recently Read: “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
Some people do not believe in New Year’s Resolutions. Some people also do not believe in Santa Claus or eating after 6 p.m. and I say boo on both of those things.
I happen to believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I make them every year and I rarely break them, because I make resolutions that I can actually keep. If that’s cheating then oh well, I guess I’m a New Year’s Resolutions cheater.
This year I’m planning to read 52 books. I couldn’t believe it’s been three years since I kicked off the year I read 100 books, and I’m not quite ready to take on a challenge of that intensity for this year, so I’ll stick with one that will stretch me but not completely overwhelm me. One book per week it is.
The first book of 2016 is a book I actually started last fall. Then I got busy at work, then we bought a house, and moved, and got a puppy, and did some semi-adulting by hosting Thanksgiving in our new house, and December basically consisted of treading water, and I read almost nothing, except for, you know, nutrition facts and washing instruction tags on the insides of clothing. I ignored all of these, so I am now morbidly obese and all of my clothes are either bleached or stained pink.
Kidding. But not kidding about the reading part. It was a dry spell, and All the Light We Cannot See was a gorgeous way to ring in the new year.
Here’s what it’s about:
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. 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 in June of 1940, 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’s.
(from Anthony Doerr’s website)
Lovely, sad, and lyrical, this book made me feel like my heart was being whittled tenderly out of my chest. Some reviews said the book moved too slowly for them—not enough action and certainly not enough payoff—but the book switches between points of view in short intervals, which kept the pace from lagging, and the language kept me engaged.
And the payoff? The payoff for me came a full day after I had already finished the book, as I was walking around my house, engaged in some mundane task—laundry, or tossing out bunny poop, or taking dishes out of the dishwasher to put them away—and it hit me. It was one of those moments where you stand upright and look to the side and mentally smack yourself in the forehead.
The whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking what gorgeous connections Doerr was drawing between his characters, what beautiful observations he was making about light and darkness as they related to a blind girl and a radio-repairing prodigy. Marie-Laure had known about darkness since she lost her sight as a little girl, and Werner was learning all about the scientific properties of light waves and how we are physically able to see. The title made sense in these parallel stories, but in a way I wouldn’t have thought of myself.
But a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel cannot be merely clever; it has to move you, make you think, reveal meaning to you. Sometimes the light we cannot see is the light of human goodness in a dark world. That was the beauty of Doerr’s novel: the subtle revelation of those moments, however fleeting, that make life worthwhile in a time when so many souls were lost or destroyed.
Slow but satisfying, All the Light We Cannot See is certainly deserving of its many accolades.
Here’s to the next 51 books!