From the cover:
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge
What I thought of All the Light
This book is a true page-turner. The story is engaging on all levels. It’s whole premise centred around ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Marie-Laure is 6-years old at the start of the War. Her mother died in child-birth, She loses her sight at an early age and is thought of as a tragic character by all who know her. Friends and neighbours can’t help but mourn her father’s sad circumstances.
Marie-Laure’s father is a locksmith at the Natural History museum in Paris. He is a master at creating puzzles and building miniatures. He creates a miniature of their neighbourhood in Paris to teach Marie-Laure how to get around the city. When the Germans invade, he is entrusted to look after a rare diamond, to keep it from the Nazis at all costs. He and Marie-Laure flee the city, bound for Saint Malo. Here, his great-uncle, Etienne, lives in relative isolation since the first world war claimed his sanity.
Werner Pfennig, an orphan, living in Zollverein, Germany, manages to gain a place in a prestigious school for boys. The school trains children for a place in the Third Riech. Werner’s talent for radio technology catches the eye of the Nazi officers. He eventually leaves the school on a mission to search for illegal radio transmissions throughout Nazi-occupied Russia and France. Werner’s story is some of the most compelling in the book. We see him struggling with the need to belong versus his dislike for the ways and beliefs of the Nazi regime. He fell in love with radio listening to a French broadcast as a child and it is this love that, inevitably wins through. It also interwines Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives long before their inevitable meeting.
The reader is drawn into the story by Doerr’s prose. It is complex, descriptive and fascinating. There is a lot of scene setting which feels a little too much like filler material and makes the book a little too long. Also, the Americanisms are a bit much. Clearly Doerr has researched the material to the letter but the writing is marred by the lack of attention to detail to how the characters would have spoken in war-torn France.
Having said that, it is quite clear how much Doerr devoted to the material, to the story and to the characters portrayed. This book took 10 years to write after-all and the results are, in no doubt, fantastic. It is also clear to see why this book received a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is, indeed, a remarkable piece of writing.