All the Light…

Books I enjoyed

allthelightOne of the reasons I pick up a book about World War II every now and then is because they are such good reminders of the more recent horrors of our history. If we do not learn from our history, then how are we to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes over and over again?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is set during WW II in France and Germany. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and tells the story of two young people: a blind French girl and a German soldier. The book starts before the war, when they are still both children.

Werner is a German orphan, with, as he grows up, nothing to look forward to but the gloomy prospect of working in the mines. His childhood during post-WW I Germany, is set in poverty at first, but as Hitler rises to power, his circumstances slowly improve. He finally escapes into the machinery of war, being groomed for the army; an opportunity he gets because of his gift of understanding math and radios. He is often conflicted: looking for a place where he can belong—yet not blind to the horrors of war and not feeling powerful enough to stop any of it.

Marie-Laure grows up in Paris. She turns blind at the age of six, and must overcome her own struggles. When the Germans invade France, she has to flee Paris and finds refuge in the coastal town of Saint-Malo.

Both Werner and Marie-Laure are sympathetic protagonists. Their life circumstances basically force them along their own particular journey, which makes one wonder how much control we have over our own destiny and the choices we make. It feels like their stories are interconnected from the beginning, bur their lives only touch briefly, although it is a defining moment.

The book is beautifully written, but I have to confess that in the beginning it took me a little while to get captivated. I kept going though, and I am glad I did. I do not know the exact moment which turned it around for me, all I know is that at some point it did. Like most books about World War II, it is sad and not without cruelty, but also full of hope, and a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

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