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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is a really great book, one that you should read even if you are one of those people who only read a handful of books a year.  Yes, it is set in WWII France, and yes, there are children involved.  It is much more hopeful than its subject and setting would imply.  The book is paints a lyrical backdrop to a gruesome war.

There are two main characters and two threads of the story.  The first is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, is the once sighted now blind daughter of  the widowed master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Shy but smart, courageous and resourceful, she has learned to navigate the streets of her neighborhood with the help of a wooden scale-model made by her master carver father.  She learns to read Braille and is able to submerge herself in the fantasy world of fiction.  The treasure of their museum is a blue diamond, the Sea of Flames, which endows the owner with eternal life but curses all that they love.  There is the rub.  They are forced to leave Paris when the Nazis invade, and go to live with Marie-Laure's great uncle Etienne, who has a great love of radios and a great fear of everything else.  He has PTSD from WWI and never leaves the house, but it is a loving environment for Marie-Laure to live in during the war.

The second is Werner Pfennig, an orphan with a idiot savant understanding of circuitry, comes of age in the coal-mining town in Germany. He gets admitted to a Nazi training school, and becomes a cog in the German war machine, hunting down Resistance radio transmissions in France and capturing the offenders. He starts off rah rah Germany but over time he changes, realizing exactly what he is doing and becoming disillusioned with both the war and himself.  At this point the two stories come together.  Werner listens to Marie-Laure's radio broadcasts, which include poetry, literature and music, and when he becomes aware of her danger, he vows to save her--will he succeed?  It is a bittersweet ending, that is all I can say. 

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