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Hannah Akahosh Reviews All the Light We Cannot See


By Hannah Akahoshi

The booming sounds of planes flying overhead. Never ending car sirens coming from every direction. Buildings collapsing. Chaos filling the streets. The Second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved all of the great powers of the globe, splitting them up into two military alliances, the Axis and the Allies. The Axis powers most notably consisted of the nations of Germany, Japan and Italy. On the other hand, the Allies had the nations of France, Great Britain and the United States. During the war, Germany occupied France from 1940 to 1944. Anthony Doerr depicts the world’s second global war through the eyes of a boy from Germany and a girl from France in his novel All the Light We Cannot See. In this Pulitzer Prize winner, Doerr dives into a multitude of themes, among them include the resilience of humans and the sacrifices people make for the betterment of others.

The novel starts off with a glimpse of Saint Malo in 1944, where both Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig are taking cover from bombs being dropped from the sky. It then jumps back to 1934, where we meet six-year-old Marie-Laure in Paris, France and seven-year- old Werner in Zollverein, Germany. At the age of six, Marie-Laure goes blind. Her father, a locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, builds a model of her neighborhood for her so she can memorize where different places are. She learns to read Braille, and becomes consumed in her imagination while reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. In 1940, the Nazis invade France and Marie-Laure is forced to flee to Saint Malo to be with her great-uncle Etienne. Werner is an orphan in a coal-mining town who fears an early death in the mines like his father’s. One day, he and his sister Jutta find a broken radio, and with his aptitude for circuitry, he manages to fix it. He and Jutta become entranced with the radio, especially loving the science program spoken by an older French man. His natural ability and passion for science and radio mechanics becomes public, earning him a spot in a Nazi military school. Werner takes his place in the war effort by tracking illegal radio transmissions. This takes him to Saint Malo, where he is tasked with tracking down an intelligence broadcast against the Nazi regime. Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths cross in Saint Malo in 1944 where Werner saves Marie’s life and takes her to safety.

Doerr is able to skillfully show the resilience of humans to overcome obstacles in life. Marie becomes fully blind at the age of six, and even though she would consistently get frustrated at herself for bumping into walls or not knowing the way home, she was able to persevere and continue to life her life as normal as she possibly could. When Nazi Germany invaded France, Marie was forced to flee the only place she knew to take refuge with her great uncle Etienne, having to learn a memorize a place completely foreign to her. Marie was a blind, teenage girl, living in a time of war where bombs are going off down the block from her, unable to actually see what is going on. Doerr exemplifies that people have the choice to either push through adversity or let it hold them down, and shows that pushing through will help to lead to hopefully having a better life one day.

Doerr also shows the sacrifices people make for the betterment of other people. While in Saint Malo, Werner found the source of the illegal transmission but chose to keep it a secret from the rest of his squad in order to protect the one in charge of the transmission. Werner, while scouting out the house, finds that the house is home to a blind teenage girl, and makes the choice to protect her from the his fellow comrades, even though his orders and ideals taught to him go against his judgment. Doerr, with the use of Werner’s sacrifice, shows that humanity is not lost and that it isn’t human nature to only think of oneself and the advancement of the individual. He shows that people are not inherently selfish and humans have the capacity to care and risk their lives for others.

With its short chapters and jumps in time, All the Light We Cannot See, shows the crossing of paths of two young people from two very different sides of World War II. Anthony Doerr gives inspiration to his readers and gives them hope for the future of humanity, showing the resilience and compassion every person hold inside of them. He masterfully strings the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig to create this brilliant story of sacrifices, perseverance and love in a time when the world was in great conflict.



Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scribner, 2014. Print.

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