Published in 2014, All the Light We Cannot See is the 5th Novel of Anthony Doerr. Set in the backdrop of the German occupation of France during the 2nd World War, the novel traces the lives of the blind Marie-Laure LeBlanc and the Orphan Werner Pfenning whose paths cross at the threshold of death.
The novel starts with an ‘Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country’. Eighteen year old German private Werner Pfenning along with his team run to the cover of the cellar of the Hotel they are in, L’hotel des Abeilles or the Hotel of Bees [Ah! What a lovely name, Isn’t it?]. Five streets to the south, a blind French girl, Marie takes shelter under her bed as bombs explode. It is under such circumstances that they meet, strangers bound by radio waves, to save each other.
The blind Marie lives in France. Her world comprising of the smells of the National Museum of Natural History ‘Botany smells like glue…Paleontology smells like rock dust…Biology smells like formalin…’, Her Father who builds her wooden puzzle boxes for her birthday and ‘Around the World in eighty’ in Braile.
Away in a German orphanage live the snow haired Jutta and her brother Werner, the one who can bring to life anything with wires and circuits. They are taken care of by the motherly Frau Elena ‘Who is more fond of children than of supervision’ who believes Werner would someday do something great. In the night Werner and Jutta hide and listen to broadcasts by a Frenchman on the radio made by Werner. He talks about Optical illusions and Electromagnetism and they hear mesmerized
Both their lives change when Marie is forced to flee to her Great Uncle’s house along with her father and Werner finds a place in the elite ‘Political Institute of Education’. They make new friends only to lose them one by one as they both eventually become a part of the War.
It is a heart wrenching tale undoubtedly but it is also a beautiful story. It is a like leisurely walk in the park of the most beautiful city in the world. It is a story of love, possibilities, hope, strength and unlikely heroes. Like Marie says ‘When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave……But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life’ Or the weakling Fredrick, the soft spoken, under-confident friend of Werner, the lover of birds, the only one who had the courage to say ‘No’
Despite the length of the Novel [yes it is long, 544 pages]. There is not a word which in excess, not an emotion wasted. The greatest USP is in its fluidity and simplicity.
Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! A beautiful tale, simply narrated which will tug at your heart strings and stay with you long after you have finished it.