Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. Narrated by Zach Appelman. Audioworks, 2014. 13 discs. Unabridged audiobook $39.99. ISBN 978-1-4423-7542-0
Also available in hardback, paperback, e-book, and e-audiobook formats.
Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives demonstrate that there is suffering on both sides of any war.
All the Light We Cannot See begins at the end, on the night the Americans laid siege to Saint-Malo, France. Listeners are introduced to the two main characters – Werner, a seventeen-year-old German solder, and Marie-Laure, a sixteen-year-old blind French girl – before being brought back to 1934 when they are small children. The novel follows Werner, an orphan, living with his sister in children’s home in Germany. He has a talent with machines and eventually catches the attention of German military men with his ability to repair radios easily. His talent lands him in a school for boys who receive a good education, while also being trained as soldier. Werner eventually must join the fight, but not on the frontlines. Marie-Laure lives with her father, the locksmith of the National Museum in Paris, until Germany begins their attack and the pair flee. They eventually arrive in Saint-Malo where her great uncle takes them in and where Marie-Laure eventually becomes an orphan as well. She and her uncle subtly help the civilian resistance against the German invaders. Throughout the novel, listeners are given flashes of that night until the children’s paths finally intertwine.
Doerr masterfully weaves together the stories of Werner and Marie-Laure, while also incorporating a German sergeant major and his quest for a rare diamond, a diamond Marie-Laure has in her possession. The flashes back and forth through time might be a bit confusing to listeners if they do not pay close enough attention, but will not be difficult for readers to understand. By showing readers Werner’s upbringing and everything he must go through for a brighter future, the author helps humanize the demonized German soldiers of WWII. The author shows the audience that not every Nazi was a monster, but some stood silently by while monstrous things happened, concerned with their own survival. The novel shows a side of the war often ignored in history classes that focus on the horrors of the frontlines and concentration camps. The common people on either side of the war who went hungry, were abused by soldiers, and were unlawfully arrested. Doerr paints the picture of a Europe that was dangerous for any and every one.
If you are considering reading All the Light We Cannot See, but do not have time to read the book, WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE TIME TO READ THE BOOK. Appelman’s lifeless reading of the novel will likely turn you off of the book. His thoroughly emotionless performance detracts from the beauty of the novel. I subjected myself to the first 9 discs until I finally decided I could make time to read the book and finished the last third of the novel. The emotion of the story was so much more vivid on the paper than it was on the recording. This poor performance of the book should be avoided if you wish to truly appreciate Doerr’s great work.
Rating (Based on VOYA’s Review Codes)
Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Significance of Book
As stated in the evaluation, All the Light We Cannot See shows a side of WWII that many students do not learn about in school. For readers interested in a story that shows the broader, less horrific, but still awful consequences of the war, they should consider reading this book.
This atmospheric novel offers a haunting and melancholy beauty that will draw readers in. The novel is also character-driven and highly compelling. The complexity of the storytelling will entice readers into wanting to see what happens in the characters’ past and present.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave for readers interested in alternating viewpoints set during WWII.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for readers interested in a WWII story set in both Germany and France.
- Werner and Jutta listen to a Frenchman teach science over the radio. An important figure from Werner’s past reenters his life in a most unexpected way.
- Daniel LeBlanc is detained and wrongly arrested. Marie-Laure loses her father to simple treachery.
- The Sea of Flames appears throughout the novel as a source of hope for some and fear for others. Why do you think the author chose to add this extra plot line?
- Do you think Werner would have suffered just as much as Frederick if he had tried to help his friend?
- Marie-Laure ends up with a successful career. Do you think is this meant to emphasize that her curious, independent nature was able to shine through even more as she grower older?
- Do you think the diamond was still in the model house in the end? Why or why not?
Anthony Doerr is the author of five books including the Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See. He has won many awards over his career as a writer, with the aforementioned novel being the most successful and awarded of his works. Learn more about Doerr and his works here.
Pulitzer Prize – 2015
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction – 2015
Alex Award – 2015
Pacific Northwest Book Award – 2015
Ohioana Book Award – 2015
Australian Book Industry Awards – International Book of the Year – 2015
Booklist Editors’ Choice – Best Fiction Book List – 2014
Goodreads Choice Awards – 2014
Indies’ Choice Book Awards – Adult Fiction – 2015
Library Journal Best Historical Fiction Award – 2014
LibraryReads Favorites List – 2014
New York Times Notable Books List – Fiction and Poetry – 2014
School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens List – 2014
Booklist – starred review
Publishers Weekly – starred review
Kirkus Reviews – starred review
Why I Chose this Book
This is a book I’ve considered reading for a while. It was popular when it first came out and I still see it circulate and used for book clubs, so I wanted to give it a try too. I’m never a huge fan of WWII Fiction because I hate reading about suffering. This was a different type of story than I’ve seen because it does not take place on the frontlines or in the camps, so the degree of suffering was still present, but at a level that was easier for me to get through. I think this way of showing how terrible life was for the common people on both sides of the war is really important and worth sharing.
Potential Challenge Issues
Violence, murder, child abuse, child endangerment, PTSD, rape
Helpful Hints for Rediscovering this Book
Werner Pfennig – German boy, talented engineer, child soldier
Marie-Laure LeBlanc – French girl, blind, moves from Paris to Saint-Malo
World War II – but story starts in 1934
Amazon.com. (n. d.). All the light we cannot see. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1476746583/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1512678069&sr=8-1
Anderson, U. (n. d.). [Untitled online image of Anthony Doerr]. Retrieved October 27, 2017 from http://www.anthonydoerr.com/biography/
Doerr, A. (n. d.). Biography. Retrieved from http://www.anthonydoerr.com/biography/
NoveList. (for information and reviews on all the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr).
Titlewave.com. (for bibliographic information on all the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr).
[Untitled online image of all the light we cannot see]. Retrieved October 27, 2017 from http://www.titlewave.com/cover?flrid=4A884Y2&type=cover&SID=9341030ba9ad14d90d3ca7613bcc0fb5