Winner of Book Review Competition

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

With an incredulous feeling I turn the last page of Anthony Doerr´s All the Light We Cannot See and find myself confronted with the fact that things have not happened as I had hoped they would. Where is the good old happy ending that leaves you without worries back in reality?

All the Light We Cannot See is a lovingly written, well-researched novel that takes you back to the dark times of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of blind Marie-Laure, who is forced by the war to leave her hometown Paris, and Werner, a boy with an extraordinary engineering talent who quickly becomes an important man in the “ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that is Germany” (69). Even though both lives could not be more different, their paths are, curiously enough, meant to cross.

In his vivid, detail-oriented way of writing, Doerr lets his readers accompany Marie-Laure in her every day struggle and lets them feel with her when fate keeps testing her. He gives insights into Werner´s life in the Hitler Youth and how he slowly becomes a victim of the Nazi ideology. I was especially surprised by the many German terms used in the book, sometimes even without further explanation. They give the story a very original, authentic touch and made it, for me as a German, even more pleasant to read.

It is an interest in the fate of those two strong characters and the well-known imminent circumstances of the Second World War that make your eyes jump to the end of the next page in the hope of finding a name or a hint telling you if Marie-Laure´s father is finally coming back, if Werner and his comrade manage to survive another day without food, or if the risk of spreading secret codes is really worth it …

Even though I am not a big advocate of time warps, they and the short chapters give the story a lifelike and dramatic touch that makes it quite thrilling to follow. It is like a puzzle – you are trying to put the pieces together, to find connections, to understand incidents.

It has been a long time since I have read a novel that treats a serious topic in such a sensitive, but realistic way and that makes you hope, hope until the end. I realize that the story, which is the reflection of brutal and merciless oppression and terror, has found its own adequate end. According to the circumstances, it may somehow also be considered a happy one. It is unexpected, but reasonable.

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