All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is such a good book. A real classic. When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I read loads of classics before I got on to reading any modern contemporary novelists, and this novel is as satisfying as a fat George Eliot or a Jane Austen, or a labyrinthine Thomas Hardy – although different, because modern. It’s set in the Second World War, and what makes this book so engaging are the two main protagonists, whom we meet when they are children, caught up in the engines of war. Werner is a gifted orphan, brilliant with radios, who lives in an orphanage with his little sister after their father went to work in the mines one day and never came home. He longs to be a scientist rather than labour away in the mines like his father. His gift for fixing radios brings him to the attention of the Hitler Youth. Marie-Laure, blind since the age of 6, lives in Paris with her father, who works as a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. The museum is Marie-Laure’s childhood and her education, but when the Nazis invade, they have to flee, in possession of an invaluable diamond. They hope it is one of the replicas to put the Nazis off the scent, but could it be the real one? We see the world through Marie-Laure’s “eyes”. Sounds, smells, touch and taste build up a kaleidoscopic universe full of remembered and imagined colours. These two children, caught up by war, are so engaging, and the whole narrative really explores the injustices which are always at the heart of life, both in war and peacetime. It’s a novel about humanity and hope, the little people against the inescapable machine of war – what it does to people’s lives, how it is in the little things that they try to exercise control. Werner is an incredibly gifted child, and one of his fellow soldiers says affectionately “What you could have been…” It is also about the importance and the power of radio, beautifully described. Werner and his little sister in their orphanage hear broadcasts from a Frenchman who speaks to his listeners about the beauties of the natural world, he educates, inspires and informs, and they have no idea where his voice comes from until foreign radio is banned in Nazi Germany, and Werner is forced to destroy the radio set he has lovingly repaired. Anyway, a great read. One of those books that will stay with me…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s