All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.
Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.
At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.


What is blindness? Where there should be a wall, her hands find nothing. Where there should be nothing, a table leg gouges her shin. Cars growl in the streets; leaves whisper in the sky; blood rustles through her inner ears. In the stairwell, in the kitchen, even beside her bed, grown-up voices speak of despair.

All the Light We Cannot See belongs to the family of purely beautiful books. Everything about it screams beauty: its cover, its name, its writing, even its subject (senses, not war). What is interesting about these beautiful books is that they are always touching; you just can't help but be wrapped up in the storytelling, tangled between breathtaking strings of words. This one certainly is no exception but it also produces the fatal flaw these books have: they can be hard to get into because they oftentimes feel rather slow.

Jutta whispers, "A girl got kicked out of the swimming hole today. Inge Hachmann. They said they wouldn't let us swim with a half-breed. Unsanitary. A half-breed, Werner. Aren't we half-breeds too? Aren't we half our mother, half our father?"
"They mean half-Jew. Keep your voice down. We're not half-Jews."
"We must be half something."

I definitely recommend reading this book when you have plenty of time at hand. It's not something you can delve into when you have a minute to spare - it needs its time otherwise it can get drowned out easily by obligations and life in general, which is unfortunate because it's definitely worth the read.

What this book illustrates beautifully are two main things: 1. the senses 2. the cogs turning in a war.
It was amazing how Doerr was able to make me blind to the world when I needed to be or enhance my vision if it needed enhancing. I was able to see ghosts but not words, smeels but no streets. Or, conversly, how sound could be amplified both in meaning and in volume. Suddenly, a whisper in the static could mean the world (or the end of it) and silence would mean despair and hope.
The aspect of war, however, was interesting on an entirely different level because we are rather detached from the, like, "actual front" of it. Sure, there are several scenes of destruction but what is explored is not the prospect of humans within the fires of blight but huddled around it: we see malice in Bastian, greed in Von Rumpel, and compliance in Werner. But we also see the water, which seeks to douse the flames: bravery in Madame Manec, defiance in Jutta (and eventually in Werner), and compassion in Frederick. And all of their stories are, somehow, wonderfully woven together into a string, strong and compelling.

There is something wonderful and terrible about war stories. Almost nothing else manages quite as adequately to teach us horrors and fear as well as compassion and the hope never to have to live through said horrors and fear ourselves. It is important for us to remember these stories, these events that can be drowned out in history classes because specifics do not give you an adequate picture of the political situation before, during, and after the war. It is almost too easy to distance yourself from an event, even such a huge and devastating one as a world war, when you have to write a quick essay about Hitler's rise to power. But with stories like this, we are able to remember and we couldn't just write an essay about the destruction of a Saint-Malo without caring. What I want to say is this: if you haven't read All the Light We Cannot See yet and you feel adept to deal with the ache that comes with reading about the WWII I would strongly suggest you give it a try, even if it takes a while to be wholly sucked into the story.


I don't have much more to say, honestly. 4/5 stars for a beautiful book which, eventually, managed to gouge a couple of tears from my eyes.


Name: All the Light We Cannot See
Deutscher Titel: Alles Licht, das wir nicht sehen
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 531
Where?: Amazon (English edition), Amazon (Deutsche Ausgabe)


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