By Anthony Doerr
Here’s a novel about a blind, freckled little girl growing up in Paris. She’s enjoying her childhood with her father who adores her. At the same time an orphaned little boy and his sister are growing up in a children’s home that’s about 300 miles northeast of Paris in Zollverein, Germany. As they all enter their teen years, World War II starts, and then The Occupation, and the French Resistance. Life out of their control, and they are on opposite sides. The reader naturally draws comparisons and contrasts between these children’s lives. Eventually their lives directly collide.
This book is about intolerable choices forced onto people, and the resulting consequences to themselves and to the people around them. “What the war did to dreamers.” It also shines a light on the ways, against all odds, that people can try to be good to one another, in whatever ways they can see. Each character comes alive to the reader, beyond the circumstances they suffer. Their spirits plummet, and waver, and somehow survive the bleakness, on a glimmer of hope. “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”
Hidden away in the folds of the story there’s a lustrous stone that’s older than the ages. It’s said to invisibly protect the holder, but brings harm to those nearby. But does this gem truly emit such powers, or is a stone simply a stone?
The author skillfully shows us the adaptability, and the resourcefulness of people, especially in these dire, war circumstances. Every decision, every move is life or death. Then a picture of kindness to one another, moments of kindness and courage displayed. This book shows the courage that people act on and the courage that they learn.
All the Light We Cannot See was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The author’s short stories and essays have won four O. Henry prizes and been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. His work has been translated into over forty languages.
To paraphrase, those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. On that note, there is hope when this historical novel was recommended to me by a high school student.
Thereby hangs a tale . . . .