Tuesday, 28 April 2015
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
review by Maryom
In St Malo, in August 1944, people wait for the Allied bombardment to begin. Townsfolk are warned to leave, but not everybody can, and there's certainly no escape for the German troops stationed there.
Blind since the age of six, Marie-Laure and her father moved from their Paris home to her great-uncle's home in St Malo as the German advance rolled across France. Alone now in the house, she can't read the leaflets that warn of the impending bombing but the sound of approaching aircraft is unmistakable, so she seeks shelters in the cellar under her great-uncle's house and waits for the bombing to end. In her hand she clutches a tiny model of the house, and hidden within it a tear-drop shaped stone, the size of a pigeon egg.
In a different part of town, eighteen year old German radio-operator Werner is also hiding in a cellar - underneath the Hotel of Bees, which has been his 'home' for the past few weeks as he helps track down a Resistance group sending messages to the Allies. Raised in a mining town orphanage, while still a schoolboy, Werner discovered his special 'knack' for radios. Enthralled by the things they enabled him to hear, and fascinated by how they work, Werner finds his knowledge and intuitive understanding opening up opportunities for him as part of Germany's war effort - opportunities which have eventually led him to St Malo and a basement bomb shelter.
While the bombers fly overhead, the story moves back in time to their childhoods, discovers a connection that neither of them is aware of, and a treasure that, while it protects the life of its owner, carries a curse.
A story about a boy, a girl, and a precious jewel sounds a bit like a fairy tale - and, despite its setting in Second World War Europe, in many ways it is. This wonderful, lyrical story works well at several levels; a story of two young people making a connection despite the barriers of nationality and war; an exploration of the ways in which we experience our world - not always merely through sight but using the other senses as well; and as a fable about a fabulous jewel and the search for the one person strong enough to resist it. Add in a father's love for his child, Werner's struggle to do what he feels is right when everyone and everything is pushing him in a different direction, Marie-Laure's desire to overcome her handicap and share fully in the world, someone determined to find the jewel and use it for their own benefit and the little old ladies of St Malo who decide that even they can help to defeat the Germans, and it all makes for a very special book. The various threads weave in and around each other, seemingly easily, though I imagine it didn't feel like that for the author at the planning and plotting stage!
I loved it, every bit of it; the way the story evolved, the style of the story telling, the human-interest angle, the facts about shells, snails and wireless, the mix of real factual world and ever-so-slightly fantastical.
I've tagged it as adult/ literary/ historical but don't feel constrained by these labels - it could as easily appeal to an inquisitive teenager or someone who'd normally avoid war stories, and different readers will find different things to love in it.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Fourth Estate
Genre - adult literary historical fiction, WW2,
Other reviews; For Winter Nights