All the Light We Cannot See, Or (All the Time I Spent Crying Last Month)

Grade: grades can’t express how many feels this book gave me. Okay fine. A+. +. +. +. +. ++++++++. +.

All the Light We Cannot See (5/6/14) by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is a Pulitzer Prize winning book, the third one I have (attempted) to read. Small mistakes beside (that’s the editor’s job so), it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I don’t if anyone says otherwise I think it’s a masterpiece.

I haven’t read a book like this in a while. A super haunting, touching, FEELS-Y book. A book that kept me up all night and made me neglect my other work so I could just read just a sentence more (which turned into chapter, which turned into section). I was up until 1am most nights frantically flipping pages while calculating the time I had left to sleep. And then after I finished, the book just stayed with me, the lines (especially the horrific ones) repeating in my head. Basically what I’m saying is that do not read this book if you have something important to do in the next month (or possibly year) because you will regret your life choices.

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The book follows two main characters: a girl named Marie-Laure and a boy named Werner. It’s set in WWII and spans the time immediately before the war, the time during the war, the aftermath, and even (maybe spoiler?) reaching to 2014.

Marie-Laure is French (of course, her name is the most typical French name I’ve ever heard). She’s also blind, which makes her chapters 10 times more beautiful since she imagines the world and feels her way through it and notices everything. Her story begins in Paris, and then goes to Saint-Malo, where she flees with her father and lives with her uncle, all the while carrying a stone called the Sea of Flames, an incredibly valuable and incredibly made up diamond.

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Werner is a genius albino orphan German boy. He joins the Hitler youth and builds transmitters to aid in the effort of the war. Through the book he becomes more and more aware of the death and destruction he’s in the midst of. He gets sent to the front and eventually ends up in Saint-Malo, where he meets Marie-Laure.

The story lines are beautiful, intertwining in sometimes obvious and sometimes surprising ways. But the style of the writing: OH MY GOD. I’ve never wanted to write more like anyone else.

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I’m now going to launch into one of my epic metaphors / similes. I have come up with several that I think should go down in quote books. Jk they suck.

Most authors write as if they’re taking a photograph: the focus is on the main characters and everything is blurred in the background. Sometimes characters lack a certain depth and the quality of the photograph seems empty.

Anthony Doerr writes as if he’s painting. Every detail is masterfully included, and with each brush stroke he adds another tiny object to the painting: a lamp, a shell, a car. But although he puts tremendous effort into his tiny details, still his entire painting is harmonious and congruous. The quality of his painting never fails. I’ve never read a book where I can picture the scenes as well as I could in this one. And the characters are constructed beautifully as well (I have a very strong mental image of what Marie-Laure looks like and if anyone tries to tamper with that we will have problems).

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(I think I’ll refrain from gif usage for the rest of this post because it’d be weird… sorry y’all)

Sometimes, Doerr drifts off into epic descriptions of sceneries or background information. Sometimes he’ll explain where every single character in the book is at the moment, from Werner to his sister to Marie-Laure to her father to her uncle to… yeah, everyone. Sometimes he’ll launch into some beautifully constructed memory that flashes between scenes of the past and scenes of current events. And once he even went into a what-could-have been situation that I can’t even speak of because it just makes me so sad.

And of course I can’t neglect to talk about the title, which is probably the best title in relation with the contents of the book since To Kill a Mockingbird (which, incidentally, is also one of my favorite books). Doerr plays around with the idea of light a lot. The different types of light, especially visible light and radio waves.

Radios play a huge role in the entire book. Werner builds them and loves them and understands how they work. Marie-Laure’s uncle has a huge transmitter in his attic that becomes key to the core of the story. Radios, literally, are the light we cannot see. And of course, there is visible light; especially that of moonlight or no light. There are quite a few descriptions about the sky and the light streaking across the clouds. Additionally, Marie-Laure is blind, but she seems better at picturing the world than the rest of us are. She can imagine all the different types of light.

And (SPOILER, HUGE SPOILER TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW), there’s also the dead and the souls of the dead (as this is a WWII book, there are a lot of deaths). Several characters become extremely traumatized over the course of the book, to the point where they begin to see the dead and see ghosts, some benign and some vengeful; they travel like light does, undisturbed by everything. Towards the end, Marie-Laure contemplates that the dead could be traveling through the air just like radio waves, the light we cannot see. And so everyone and everything that’s gone isn’t actually gone.

Of course, “light” could also be seen metaphorically as truth or hope. Werner is often blinded by himself, even though he has rays of truths, “lights,” like his sister or his best friend. And each character in the book maintains hope within themselves, even though eventually they almost all descend into hopelessness, unable to see the light anymore.

But in Doerr’s book we come across one of those rare scenarios where the literal meaning is as beautiful or possibly even more beautiful than the metaphorical meaning. The radios, the dead, the truths, our faded hopes: it’s all the light we cannot see.

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