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All the light we cannot see

Book Review

Title: All the light we cannot see

Author: Anthony Doerr

Publisher: Fourth Estate, London, 2014

Pages: 531

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 human life.

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 novel.

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. 


PPS. This post is part of the Bookish League blog hop hosted by Bohemian Bibliophile.

Comments

  1. I haven't read this book but watching the series and I am loving it. After reading your review I am going to pick this one. It is my first time when I am watching an adaptation before reading the book.

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    Replies
    1. The book will turn out to be a lot better than the series, I'm sure.

      Delete
  2. Hari OM
    Oh yes, I must reread this... there is so much in it that speaks to our times... there's a sentence that haunted me (and forgive if I misquote); "it seems all the people of the world have become evil all at the same time." Yes, haunting. YAM xx

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  3. This book has been in my TBR for a long time. I was tempted to watch the series but now, I think I will read the book first.

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  4. I watched the series a couple of weeks back. It's quite good but being a bookworm I'm sure the book would be better. Your review just confirmed that for me. I loved what you said here, " Such is human life too: so many of its shades remain beyond our ordinary perception and understanding."

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    Replies
    1. Someone told me too that the book was better than the series.

      Delete

  5. Oh I have heard a lot about this book but haven't read it. There's a series or movie as well.

    Very nice write up.

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    Replies
    1. The book may be deeper than the series if you prefer.

      Delete
  6. You said it - this books sits in your heart for ever. I fell in love with the lyrical prose - such beautiful writing and such a poignant narrative. It will always be a favourite of mine. Glad you picked it for a review.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed the style has music in it. I'm glad to meet someone who discovered that music.

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  7. I have heard about the book, but I have not read it. Fascism is a heavy word. And a book themed on its matters must be grave. I added it to my TBR list, hoping to read it sometime.

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    Replies
    1. This book treats fascism in an aesthetic way as far as that's possible.

      Btw, i wonder where my previous response to you vanished.

      Delete
  8. I have heard about the book, but I have not read it. Fascism is a heavy word. And a book themed on its matters must be grave. I added it to my TBR list, hoping to read it sometime.

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    Replies
    1. It requires a little patience but is highly rewarding in the end.

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  9. What a beautiful gift! I started watching the series, but that day I was in mood for something lighter, so stopped. But now I feel I should read the book first and then watch the series.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad my review has stimulated a thorough reader like you.

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  10. I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it! Such a beautifully written and thought provoking book!

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    Replies
    1. I too read it a few years back. I reread it recently when another friend gifted another copy which i declined naturally.

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  11. Neither read the book nor watched the series but what I can understand from the review is that it is worth a read an I will pick it for sure.

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  12. I love the book. The protagonist's at the opposite side of the sepctrum, the darkness in both their lives, has been captured so well. Glad you wrote it's review

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  13. I havent read this book but have read rave reviews about it! The story seems to offer profound insights into the resilience of the human spirit. Will check it out. Thanks for recommending it!

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  14. I have not read the book but have read rave reviews about it. This story seems like a great read, offering profound insights into the resilience of the human spirit. Will check it out. Thanks for recommending it.

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  15. Only after reading a few lines of the plot did I realize that I had seen the OTT series based on this book and it is my feeling from reading this review that the book must be even better. Loved your review, thanks for sharing.

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  16. The analogy between the electromagnetic spectrum and the hidden facets of human life is beautifully explored in Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See." The intricate plot involving Marie-Laure's journey, the Sea of Flames, and the impact of war on characters like Uncle Etienne creates a captivating narrative. The novel skillfully reveals the unseen shades of human experience, making it a poignant and thought-provoking read. Nice.

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  17. I haven't read this book but I know it's well loved and revered in the book community. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it as well, it sounds like a wonderful read.

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  18. That is an interesting analogy. I haven't read the book or watched the series yet. Among the reviews I have read, your review has an interesting take reflecting the current state of affairs. I will probably pick up the book first.

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  19. The book's been on my wishlist for a longtime. Sigh, when will I get to it!

    ReplyDelete

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