Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Award winning books are one of the most difficult books to review because if you like the book, you might not sound honest and if you don’t like it, there are always “the fans” who will question your acumen. This is the dilemma I have faced alot of time when I decide to pick a “famous book” and that is exactly what went on in my head when I grabbed the copy of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. For those who are not aware, this is a pulitzer prize-winning read and I have forgotten the number of times I have been recommended to read this whenever I asked for suggestions.

The book is the story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father, who works at the Museum of Natural History. His father is adamant to make his blind daughter as independent as possible so he constructs for her model of their neighbourhood; each house, each street, each storm drain is there, so that she can learn it with her fingers and then apply her knowledge and find her way on her own. When world war II breaks out and the Germans are about to invade Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee and land up in St Malo, to live with her great-uncle Etienne lives and his redoubtable housekeeper, Madame Manec.

The other protagonist is Werner Pfennig, an orphan with hair as white as snow who is growing up in a mining town in Germany with his sister, Jutta. Werner has an inquisitive mind and shares with her sister, the fascination for electronics particularly radios so much so that he teaches himself how they work and eventually how to repair and constructs his own radios. Werner and MarieLaure are two very different people, living very different lives till the war strikes. The book takes you through their childhood, their dreams,their struggle before and during the war and finally it takes you to the time when their paths cross.

Anthony Doerr is definitely brilliant with words and his writing is more or less perfect. Each sentence sound more or less like poetry and even though the words are simple, they do not fail to transport you to a world where you can imagine the story. You can pretty much imaging what France and Germany would have looked like before the war, imagine the model that Marie-Laure’s father had made for her, the joy she felt when she visited the sea and feel sad as the war destroys all this each passing day.

The narration moves between the two protagonists with each chapter and in time as well and this where the book looses me. The character development is amazing, well-developed and relatable but the time shifts and the constant to and fro narration in the plot were confusing at times.

There are alot of instances when I admired the author’s writing prowess and phrases like “But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” made me read the whole chapter again just to experience of the beauty if the words one more time but the whole buildup to what is supposed to be the highlight of the book fizzled out as soon as the two protagonist met. All in all, I would recommend reading this once and paying attention while you do it because it is pretty easy to lose track but I would have to say that even though individual chapters stole my heart, the book as whole left me unsatisfied as a reader.