All the Light We Cannot See
Our book group’s pick for this month’s reading is Anthony Doerr‘s award-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, released in 2014.
The 500-page hardcover book looks and weighs like a brick, a little daunting, I must say.
I didn’t start reading it until last week, with less than 15 days to our book discussion date. I must say, I was immediately hooked by the style and short chapters—each feels like a scene in a film, presenting the lives of people on the opposite sides of WWII.
I plunged in, being mesmerized by the shifts in time and the separate narrative lines between the two main characters, a blind French girl, Marie, and a German orphan, Werner. I wondered when their path could cross and how they would connect.
The short chapters are refreshing and the pages turn quickly, yet a third into the novel, I got a bit wary—the shifting in time, back and forth, feels like too much and the two characters’ worlds didn’t cross until almost at the very end. Then, after surviving all the trials and redeeming himself by saving Marie and her uncle, Werner died meaninglessly by stumbling into a land mine while trying to go back to Germany, after being captured and treated for his illness.
Really? He could just walked off from a tent after being delirious from high fever for days?
Maybe it doesn’t matter how he died—so many people, soldiers and civilians and children, died during the war. Maybe a meaningless death makes it more powerful in presenting the futility of war.
Nevertheless, I was drawn into the story and glad to see the pace picks up in the second half and there is a depiction of life after the War. I stayed up late and kept reading, until I finished it today, with three days to spare and ponder.
I wonder about the symbolic meaning of the gem, the Sea of Flames, that serves as a string connecting the stories, and characters like Frederick, Werner’s school friend, who dared to say no during his training, Rumpel, the Major who goes after the gem, and Etienne, Marie’s uncle, who went “crazy” because of WWI and eventually found his courage by carrying out resistance during WWII.
Many layers to peel from, and many nice, detailed descriptions to savor. A good read. I can hardly wait to hear the comments of others in my reading group this Sat.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning doc film. Jian, aka Jennifer Hou Kwong, is directing a doc film on Art Paul titled The Man Behind the Bunny: Art of Playboy.