All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

All_the_Light_We_Cannot_See_(Doerr_novel)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Scribner, 2014.  530 pages; $27.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

The story begins not with part one but with part “Zero” on the French Island of Saint-Malo, August 7, 1944. Through the course of the novel, we travel in a negative direction in time and space – back to 1934 and back east to Germany and the Soviet Union – intermittently circling back to this “zero” moment where warning leaflets drop from the sky, bombs descend, and the allies wrest control of Saint-Malo from the Germans. In part “Zero,” we meet “The Girl,” sixteen-year-old Marie-Laure, Parisian-born and blind since age 6, alone in her upstairs bedroom. We meet “The Boy,” eighteen-year-old German private Werner Pfenning, trapped in the cellar of the bombed-out Hotel of Bees. The driving question, of course, is how these two come to be where they are, how their lives will intersect, and if their bodies and – more importantly – their souls will survive. Doerr inhabits both Marie-Laure’s blindness (“composed of webs and lattices and upheavals of sound and texture”) and Werner’s struggle with Nazi indoctrination (“Is this not wrong?  But here it is right.”) with uncanny perception. The innocently lyrical writing chronicling the grit and moral confusion of war perfectly mirrors the two hopeful children who come of age in a darkening world. Doerr’s narrative unfolds with the mastery and beauty of a symphony.  Small wonder this superb novel was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer for fiction.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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