Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

Such a good book. Wonderful characters, compelling story, emotion, beautiful language, some mystery, this book has it and more. It begins in 1944 and goes back and forth in time during the years of the Nazi occupation of France in 1940 and the liberation in 1944. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a young French girl, blind since age 5 and living with her father in Paris. He is an expert locksmith, working for the National Museum of Natural History, and his mind works in details--with his work and with his daughter for whom he contructs intricate puzzle boxes for her birthdays, and miniature models of the streets where they live so that she can learn her way around and not be afraid of what she cannot see.  When the Nazis come and occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee to St. Malo, a walled town on the coast of France and move in with her reclusive Uncle Etienne in his tall house by the sea.

Parallel to Marie-Laure's story is Werner Pfennig, a young German boy who grows up in an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany.  Enthralled by the French radio broadcasts about science that he and his sister Jutta grow up listening to, Werner becomes fascinated with radios and electronics and soon becomes adept at fixing things in his small village. Eventually his skills are recognized by the Nazis and he is sent to a German technical school –a way out of the coal mines where his father died, but now his future lies with Nazi Germany.   

How the author interweaves the story of Marie-Laure and Werner is magical, full of themes of light and dark, the beauty of the natural world, moral questions, and always the light that continues to shine despite the darkness of war. It’s also a book about the senses—what the eyes can and cannot see, the voices heard over the radio, the feel and smell of the salty air and the ocean.

I thought it was a beautiful story, filled with stories of courage and humanity.  Recommend highly.

“The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

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