All the Light We Cannot See

This Pulitzer Prize winner by Anthony Doerr, certainly approached World War II from a different perspective, i.e., that of the children and their families. All the Light We Cannot See had two main characters: Marie-Laure a brilliant young, blind French girl and her family; and Werner, an equally intelligent and talented young German boy, who lived with his younger sister in an orphanage. Marie-Laure and Werner are followed through parallel stories that move back and forth through time, as they grow to adulthood during the war. We all know that, during a war, it is the children who suffer most, but this book brought that suffering home to me in a way no other ever has.

The book provides important food for thought not only about history, but about the current situation in the world today, which is probably one reason it won the prize. It is the poignancy of the story set against the destruction and desolation that is war, told with an almost poetic use of the English language. It also seems, to this reader, to be another story of the ultimate struggle between good and evil. There was little or no historical information that any history-lover wouldn’t already know, and that was a disappointment.

It reveals how German boys as young as 13 and 15 were forced into schools that trained them for war, and how, if found to be weak, they were beaten and ridiculed. One young boy, Frederick, was beaten into brain damage from which he never recovered. Many of the characters showed great courage, some of the same characters also showed great fear. Our book club agreed that, at times, Werner was a wuss.

Today, it is common knowledge that, early in the war, other countries including the U.S., did not believe or take seriously reports of abuses that were coming out of Germany. One character made an analogy of how evil can take over anyone or any country. Her analogy was that of cooking a frog. It went something like this: if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will jump out. If you drop a frog into cool water, then gradually raise the temperature of the water, the frog becomes complacent, and will eventually boil. It is in this way that any of us can be lulled into complacency, and that is truly frightening.

Marie-Laure had a braille version of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” which she read aloud a lot. The author used lines from that book to draw parallels between Captain Nemo’s situation, and that of the people of Europe who were not helping with the Resistance. “Leagues” played a large part in this book.

My Nook version of this book was only 574 pages, parts of which I couldn’t put down, other parts unfolded slowly. Overall, the book was a slow read. I had expected more historical information, and was disappointed about that. My entire book club was frustrated with parts of the story that made slow, plodding progress. While it was a great story, with superb use of the English language, some parts of the story itself could have been told so much better. It would make an excellent movie.

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