Monday, September 21, 2015

book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The backstory: All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, was named one of the top five books of 2014 by The New York Times, and won the 2015 Carnegie Medal. Update: It was also the 2015 runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: Set during World War II, All the Light We Cannot See tells the interwoven stories of Marie-Laure, a young Parisian girl going blind whose father works at the Museum of Natural History, and Werner, a young German teenager growing up in an orphanage, where he develops a fascination with radios.

My thoughts: Over the years, I've grown weary of World War II tales. I find it a fascinating time in history, but I've read so many great novels about the time and so many good novels about the time that most new WWII novels have a hard time sticking out. Admittedly, if I read this one several years ago, I might have enjoyed it even more than I did.

What makes All the Light We Cannot See so good are the writing and the characters. Doerr is both a great storyteller and a masterful sentence constructor:
"Up and down the lanes, the last unevacuated townspeople wake, groan, sigh. Spinsters, prostitutes, men over sixty. Procrastinators, collaborators, disbelievers, drunks. Nuns of every order. The poor. The stubborn. The blind."
This novel is one to be read slowly. It's a pageturner, but it's a novel to savor. As much as I enjoyed Doerr's writing, it's the characters who really drew me in. Marie-Laure 's circumstances were heartbreaking and fascinating. Her relationship with her father, and her father's devotion to raising a self-sufficient blind woman, moved me. Similarly, Werner's circumstances were also heartbreaking and fascinating. Although it was easy to guess how their lives might cross, I still enjoyed reading it.

Doerr smartly moves this novel back and forth in time, in ways that added layers of meaning and also provided some relief from the depressing tone of the war.

Favorite passage:  "Over time, thinks Marie-Laure, events that seem jumbled either become more confusing or gradually settle into place."

The verdict: All the Light We Cannot See is a beautifully written tale of World War II. Doerr uses the story of these two different characters to tell a story that is both singularly fascinating and a larger tale of the ways war strips us all of our humanity.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 531 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy All the Light We Cannot See from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Anthony Doerr's website. I was lucky enough to meet Doerr at the American Library Association conference last summer, and he was as sincerely delightful and interesting as his characters.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I've read nothing but positive things about this book. Hopefully, I'll get to it soon. Nice review.

    1. It's a good one to read with a baby, Vasilly, as it's only short, vignette chapters.

  2. Yay! I have read a few reviews where people thought it was too boring, or they did not connect with the characters. That makes no sense to me. Like you, I believe it is a novel to read slowly and savor. I actually listened to it, which helped me in that regard. It is just a beautiful story and a refreshing take on the WWII fiction genre.

    1. I spent far too much time debating listening to it versus reading it. I opted for print, but I almost wish I would have listened.

  3. I'm predicting that this book will show up in most "Best of 2015" lists. I read somewhere that Hollywood already has its eye on it?

  4. I'm one of the rare ones that just did not care for this one! I'm not sure why it was so different for me. The writing was gorgeous but I didn't feel like there was much to the characters or the story.


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