‘All the Light we Cannot See’ Anthony Doerr

It’s been a while since I posted, as I have been reading the truly epic and totally absorbing ‘All the Light we cannot See’.   I’m not sure I am going to be able to do justice to this book, as it really is quite a beautiful piece of writing.

Set mostly through World War Two we see the story from two very different young people’s eyes.  Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris.  She has become blind, and her father is her protector, but at the same time guiding her to some independence.  A talented locksmith at a museum, he creates a city in miniature to help Marie-Laure navigate her way safely.  At the heart of the museum is hidden a fabulously unique diamond, surrounded by curse, myth and mystery, which Marie-Laure’s father is to keep safe through the war.  We also meet Werner, a German orphan living with his younger sister in a home run by a nun.  Werner discovers a talent for understanding electronics, creating his own radio out of discarded pieces, and listening entranced to a series of science programmes for children from across the ether.  Marie-Laure’s story takes her to her Uncle’s house in Saint-Malo, where they flee.  But life becomes harder & harder under German occupation, and they become involved in a resistance movement using secret radios to keep families in touch, and relay information.  Werner is soon noticed as extremely gifted, and is moved to a school where the harsh regime is intended to prepare boys for service to the Reich.  A terrible event leaves Werner’s only friend brain damaged by violence, and leaves Werner doubting himself as he could do little to save his friend.  Eventually the call comes and Werner is part of a small team sent out to track down illegal radio transmissions and to deal with those making them.  Marie-Laure seems to be a target in a number of ways.  The hidden radio transmitter they use to broadcast is being traced by Werner’s group, but at the same time an army General is determined to track down the missing diamond.  He is tenacious, and obsessed by finding the jewel.  As the net closes, she finds herself alone, and all these threads tangle to bring the main characters together.

The book is huge, but the short sentences and chapters keep the pace moving along speedily.  I found the first few chapters confusing, but a little way in I was completely hooked.  The characters are very well created, I felt especially drawn to the nun running the home where Werner and his sister grow up, and the housekeeper in Saint-Malo.  The novel, right at the end, revisits many of the main characters, tying up ends and really hit home to me that in the 70s (my youth) there were thousands upon thousands of people who were living lives following those terrible events who were just a little older than I am now.