Thursday, November 30, 2023

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

Pages: 531
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 1, 2014
Publisher: Scribner
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller 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."



Marie-Laure is a young twelve-year-old girl living in Paris and her occupation is imminent. So she and her father, Daniel, leave Paris for Saint-Malo, where his brother lives. Upon fleeing, Daniel takes a very valuable item with him that later the Nazis are very interested in. Years go by and D-Day just occurred a few months ago, so liberation must be soon. Marie-Laure's father is a talented locksmith and craftsman. He has built intricate model cities to help Marie-Laure get around safely and build independence. However, Daniel is called back to Paris and is sent to a camp, so Marie-Laure finds herself with her uncle on her own. In a parallel story, Werner Pfenning, a German orphan is living in an orphanage with his sister, Jutta. He shows promise when it comes to radios and transmitting, so the Germans take an interest in him and send him to their technical school. Eventually, he becomes part of their organization that tracks illegal radios, and that is where Werner and Marie-Laure's story intersects. Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See is a memorable WWII novel of war, but also illustrates the power of secrets and ultimately hope. 

Marie-Laure is such a charming character that I loved from the instance. My heart went out to her as she is blind and has to navigate life with so much difficulty. It's so hard to be blind during a normal time, but combine that with WWII and it seems almost impossible at times. I loved how her father built models of the town for her as well as intricate boxes that ultimately hold secret treasures. He did this so she could gain some independence and be familiar with Paris and then Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure's sense of touch is her way to "see" the world and the details surrounding this were done very well. It also hinted that there's more to things than just at the surface level. What secrets hide beneath?

Werner's story was also well done in All the Light We Cannot See. It showcased the other side of the war as Werner works for the Nazis, but it also painted him in a way to display his humanity. He is talented and can work with radios, so this is his ticket out of poverty in German, but in turn, he has to contribute to the Nazi war effort. While working for the Nazis, he hears Marie-Laure's transmissions and is curious about her. He also feels remorse and questions what he is doing collaborating with the Nazis. He really has no choice in the manner, but he does feel like he should help protect Marie-Laure as their connection grows. 

Doerr's writing style in 
All the Light We Cannot See was choppy at first. The chapters were mere glimpses into the character and I wanted more - a deeper dive into Werner and Marie-Laure's story, but slowly I realized that this was an effective way to intertwine the stories slowly. Before I knew it, Marie-Laure and Werner's story converged and I was very invested. I can easily see why this novel won the Pulitzer Prize as it's beautifully written and will certainly stay with me for a long time. I can't wait to watch the show based on this novel, which recently premiered on Netflix. 

So, have you read
All the Light We Cannot See? I am so glad I found time to finally read this gem. Did you see the show on Netflix? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 



  1. I read this book years ago and remember enjoying it. I tend to enjoy WWII historical fiction! I haven't seen the show yet, though.

    1. Me too! Love WWII fiction. I just started the first episode of the show. So far so good! You'll have to let me know when you watch it! Thanks for dropping by, Angela!


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