Title: All the light we cannot see
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Fourth Estate, London, 2014
What we call light is just a tiny fraction of the
electromagnetic spectrum. Most part of the electromagnetic spectrum remains
beyond ordinary human perception. Such is human life too: so many of its shades
remain beyond our ordinary perception and understanding.
Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the
light we cannot see, unravels for us some of the mysterious shades of
Marie-Laure LeBlanc leaves Paris with
her father Daniel who is entrusted with the task of carrying a rare diamond, Sea
of Flames, to safe custody when the second world war breaks out. The National
Museum of Natural History, Paris, has made three counterfeit diamonds of the Sea
of Flames. Four men are assigned the task of carrying each of these
diamonds to four different destinations. None of them knows whether they are carrying
the original diamond or the counterfeit.
Marie-Laure arrives with her father in Saint-Malo where her great-uncle Etienne extends her and Daniel warm hospitality though he has been rendered slightly insane by the death of his brother in the first world war. Marie-Laure is only twelve years old. The real pity is that she is blind. And her father is arrested by the invading Nazi Germany for disregarding the curfew. He had been asked to report back to the Museum whose chief locksmith he was. Uncle Etienne becomes a good friend and guardian to Marie-Laure and the two together will play a significant role in helping France during the War.
Werner Pfennig is the hero of the
novel. He is a young orphan boy living with his sister Jutta in an orphanage
inn Zollverein, Germany. At the age of 15, he has to leave the orphanage and
work in the mines. But his gigantic intellect gets him admitted to the National
Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta. He soon witnesses the
brutality of the Nazis. An angelic person like Frederick who is Werner’s
bunkmate is bullied by mates and ravaged by the savage commandant. Nazism has no
heart. Nationalism of that sort cannot have a heart. But Werner has a heart.
The heart has little role in fascist
systems, however. Fascism is all about power and power for a select few. The
others are to be eliminated brutally. If you are with the fascist but have a
heart you too deserve to be decimated – like Frederick who becomes a living
corpse in front of Werner. Because of what fascism did to him.
“Your problem,” Frederick tells
Werner before he is incapacitated altogether by savage nationalism, “is that
you still believe you own your life.” No one is free in a fascist country. You
are only given the illusion of being free because you are allowed to commit
certain crimes with impunity. You are allowed to give vent to all your frustrations
by ill-treating those who are perceived as ‘antinational’ or ‘anti-race’ or
something of the sort.
How free are you? Particularly in a
fascist country? “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they
close forever,” Madame Manec says to those who are willing to listen to her.
She is fighting for the liberation of Paris from German occupation. “Don’t you
want to be alive before you die?” She will ask you as you are immersed in the
This novel gets into your heart and
sits there. Provoking you to see some of the light that is not normally seen. Werner
and Marie-Laure are the hero and the heroine of the novel. One is German and
the other French. They are supposed to be enemies. What will happen when they
come face to face with each other at the end of the novel? That’s one of the
most amazing climaxes in fiction you can get. And the other is what happens to
the original Sea of Flames.
This novel is like a mesmerising
symphony with some brilliant cadences waiting for you at the end.
PS. This novel was a gift given me by a student who wrote the following inscription on the dedication page.
This post is part of the Bookish League blog hop hosted by Bohemian Bibliophile.