Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

“The sentences hoist her up and carry her somewhere else. . . . Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.”


This enchanting WWII story about Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who survives the Nazi occupation of Paris, and the orphaned German boy named Werner Pfennig, who lives a world away but loves radio as much as Marie-Laure does, transcends the limits of sight and sound and the written word. It speaks to the human heart like the music of great composers, Schubert, Mozart, and Chopin.

Six-year-old Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, a widower who works as head locksmith at the nearby Museum of Natural History. She goes to work with Papa every day, and in the evenings, while Marie-Laure reads brail, her father builds her a perfect miniature model of their neighborhood, hoping that someday she will be able to find her way home without needing to hang on to his arm. To the delight of both father and daughter, she is eventually able to!

At the same time, in a small German orphanage, six-year-old Werner Pfennig is fascinated by things invisible—radio waves, the ultraviolet, and the infrared. He loves building and repairing things. He finds a broken old radio and, by some miracle of childhood genius, fixes it by splicing the wires. Marie-Laure is barely a teenager when Germany invades France. She and her father must flee Paris. They go to her great uncle’s home in the coastal town of Saint-Malo. Inside Papa’s bag of keys from the museum, unbeknownst to him, the top museum official has hidden a priceless diamond thought by the superstitious to carry extraordinary power and a dangerous curse.

Werner quickly becomes the town’s radio repairman and gains the attention of the German army. When he is just twelve, he is called to attend military school. He travels from Germany to Russia and back to France, tracking down any and all who radio in the resistance against Hitler.

The tandem stories of Marie-Laure and Werner collide at last, and the promise of “boy meets girl” fulfilled, when Werner tracks Marie-Laure’s radio broadcasts in Saint-Malo. Instead of doing what he has been ordered to do, he risks his life to rescue her from the rubble of the city.

I highly recommend this exquisite book! Doerr’s characters dance off the pages and move about the room in front of your very eyes. I will miss them!

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