ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE
An ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. When Marie Laure goes blind, aged six, her father builds her a model of their Paris neighborhood, so she can memorize it with her fingers and then navigate the real streets. But when the Germans occupy Paris, 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, is enchanted by a crude radio. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that ultimately makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Their two paths converge in St Malo, where the Allies are remorselessly bombarding the town….
Slow to start and slow to build, this beautifully crafted tale gathers extraordinary momentum as two memorable characters – Marie Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfennig, a member of the Hitler Youth, evolve in the skilful hands of Anthony Doerr, who was a worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize for this outstanding book. These protagonists provide the two poles of the moral compass which underpins the narrative. Werner’s character is particularly nuanced: a likeable young lad who becomes a tool of the Third Reich. Doerr examines how the vulnerable are exploited and hideously challenged: Marie Laure by her blindness, Werner by his poverty and his love of his sister and poor hapless Frederick, a fellow student of Werner’s, by his fascination with birds. All of them, in their different ways, are never quite vanquished. The author is perhaps a mite too diligent in tying up the loose ends of the story after the main action is resolved, so that the conclusions seemed a little contrived, but this is without doubt a rich and engrossing read.