You know how old people wistfully tell you to look for the light at the end of the tunnel during a hardship? Reading All the Light We Cannot See has me thinking that the light at the tunnel is for sure a high-speed train gearing up for a head-on collision. Anthony Doerr’s 2014 Pulitzer-Prize winning novel is aptly packed with a great deal of darkness, and I may or may not have cried a little at the end.
At 530 pages, his work is also not light in the physical sense. While the longevity isn’t always appreciated (I much prefer the latter half of the book to the former), it is necessary in order to accomplish Doerr’s goals. It’s clear he wants to present multiple perspectives on a historical travesty—even if it means inducing readers to empathize with a Nazi................
Specifically, he uses a parallel structure to compare the lives of two European children during World War II. The first, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, is a blind Parisian who must flee her childhood home and take refuge with extended family in another French town occupied by the Nazis. Fun fact: it’s not easy to leave everything you’ve ever known when you literally can’t see a single thing. The second, Werner Pfennig, is a precocious German orphan whose science skills land him in a select Nazi military school. There, he is brainwashed by nationalism and fear, yet intrigued by the power of his intellectual gifts for “the cause”.
The two main characters’ paths unknowingly intertwine throughout the novel, and Doerr underscores the connection by hopping around from person to person and from year to year. Here’s where I pause. It’s difficult enough to simultaneously resonate with two different people in two different places with two different sets of problems. Whiplash me back and forth from 1940 to 1944 to 1942, etc., and you’ve lost me. When I’m reading something super sad, I need an enduring sense of place. Interestingly, the overly-jumpy-factor ruined another Pulitzer Prize winner for me—A Visit from the Good Squad. Is that the secret ingredient?
When you’re able to look over the novel’s questionable rhythm, there are plenty of gems. Literally, there is a gem known as the Sea of Flames, which allegedly gives its owner immortality at the expense of everyone around him/her. Some characters covet the diamond, and the location of the stone lends to a consistent mysterious tone throughout the novel. Figuratively, Doerr gifts us his beautiful prose. Perhaps due to the fact that one of his main characters is blind, Doerr uses some stellar imagery to describe the haunting images of war-torn countries filled with children deprived of their innocence.
Overall, his work is moving but perhaps not award winning given the helter-skelter style. All the Light We Cannot See walks away with three out of five camel humps.
*Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2014 Print.