To me, summer means books. Well, fall/winter/spring/sunny/rainy mean books as well – but summer means the most books, especially new reads. Starting this year, I’m going to *try* writing short reactions after finishing each one. Here’s the first of the season, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner).
This is what I would describe as a beautiful book. I feel that is the appropriate adjective for it – beautiful.
It’s beautifully written, set in a world constructed with solid, descriptive details – just like the wooden model towns the girl protagonist runs her fingers through to memorize. Told in alternating flashbacks, it slowly but surely builds up in suspense and a-ha! moments. The chapters are short, making (what I think) is a relatively heady read into an enjoyable one. It is paced well. I found myself starting off relaxed but curious – and ending up with feelings similar to a small panic attack.
As many of the published reviews till tell you, this is basically a boy meets girl story. In a way, there’s nothing extraordinary about them. There’s a young boy, orphaned in a coal-mining town. He likes listening to Science broadcasts and fixing broken radios. There’s a young girl, the blind daughter of a locksmith/key-custodian in a museum. She likes reading Jules Verne and collecting found objects. The book tells the story of how they met *bow*
On the other hand, there’s also nothing ordinary about them. The protagonists are living through World War II. The boy is German and will grow up to be a Nazi soldier, a wunderkind trained to hunt down insurgent radio broadcasters. The girl is French, hiding in a walled city right on the edge of the Brittany coast. In the middle of them and of it all is a peculiar treasure hunt. The prize? A priceless gem that is rumored to bring its carrier both immortality and death.
The plot is both epic (What can be more epic than a world at war?) and ordinary (What can be more insignificant than an orphaned boy and a blind girl in the middle of a world at war?). The story is so incredible that the characters feel so small in such a massive and (quite literally) world-changing event. It explores the tension between being caught in monumental situations that we cannot alter or fight and being responsible for our own everyday choices.
Biggest Takeaway? Exactly that. Are we just inconsequential little pieces in a very large chess game, ignorant of the bigger picture and unable to control our own destiny? Or are we capable of making our own choices and are to be held answerable for what we end up creating, destroying or changing long after we are gone?
“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”
“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”
“This, she realizes, is the basis of all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”
Worth the read? Yes. Read it slowly and savor the slow but steady quickening of your heart. Buy it if you can. This is book is loaded and layered. I think I might enjoy re-reading this one just to sift through the subtleties again. Also, the cover is as beautiful as the words inside.