by Anthony Doerr
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
All the Light we Cannot See is a novel by Anthony Doerr that is set during World War II. The focal point of the chapters alternate between the characters Werner Pfennig and Marie Laure LeBlanc. The book also relates the siege of 1944 for Saint-Malo by the Allied forces
the Plot is gripping
Marie is raised in Paris by her father, Daniel Leblanc. She is blind from age 6 and learns how to cope with the help of her father. He replicates their neighborhood in a model so she can navigate independently and also provides her with braille books that open up her world to imagination.
Werner is raised in an orphanage with his sister called Jutta. He is quite intelligent, and he builds a radio that picks up broadcasts from far away in other cities. The broadcasts, especially a scientific one from the French, makes them hope for a better life. Werner is poor and runs the risk of ending up like his father, who was dead, working in the mines. Werner gets an opportunity to escape the fate of the mines by getting admitted to a school sponsored by Reich.
Both Marie and Werner encounter challenges and have gifts that are unique to each. Werner struggles with poverty, and Marie has to deal with blindness in the absence of her mother, who died during her birth. The challenges reveal the strengths they possess. Marie has love and imagination, while Werner has creativity and intelligence.
Werner sees Marie walking down Saint Malo in the street and is fixed by her. He even rescues her from a near death experience and aids her in escaping the city, which was under siege.
The story continues after the war and explores the consequences of the bravery of Werner and also the survival of Marie-Laure. Through the son of Jutta, Max, the reader, sees Werner’s creativity passed down no longer under the shadow of poverty. The end of this novel leaves the reader with the triumph of light over darkness even in great circumstances
The novel’s different sections converge upon their meeting, which forms an extended climax within the novel. While the novel is not a traditional love story, Werner, nevertheless, falls in love with Marie-Laure, when he sees her walk down the street in Saint-Malo. Werner rescues Marie-Laure from death and helps her escape the city, which is still under siege, redeeming himself through this act of courage in defiance of his so-called duty to the Reich.
The story continues beyond the end of the war, detailing the consequences of Werner’s act of humanity, and revealing Marie-Laure’s survival. Through Jutta’s son, Max, the reader also sees the survival of Werner’s bright curiosity, no longer overshadowed by poverty or history. At the end of the novel, the reader comes away with a sense of the power of light against darkness and the human spirit’s dedication to preserving its own humanity, even under desperate circumstances. a