• Noha Badawi

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” 

A novel that stands out and shine so bright on any shelf. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a beautifully stunning story of a blind French girl – Marie-Laure – and an out-of-this-world smart, turned-soldier German boy – Werner Pfenning. Surviving the devastation of World War II, their paths collide with heartbreak and a small glimpse of humanity.

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” 

Living with her father in Paris, Marie-Laure looses her sight at a very young age. Her father, working at the museum of Natural History in France, and being one wonderful dad, he dedicates his time to help his girl stand taller and stronger than anyone; bringing her books, teaching her about the neighborhood, telling her stories and answering anything that tickles her curiosity and thirsty mind. He does all to keep her safe, when the Nazis attack, they flee to the by-the-sea-shores walled citadel of Saint-Malo; and living with their isolated uncle proves to be a thing that gives them a tiny bit of hope and keep her safe. Not that they’re not at risk for the crazy valuable jewel Marie-Laure’s father was tasked to keep safe for the museum, just like with all his other colleagues fleeing Paris.

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

On the other side of the war line, in a mining town in Germany, a young boy, Werner Pfenning grows up in an orphanage with his younger sister. Raising by a french teacher, things start to bit by bit get harder for all the children; but who knew that finding a crude radio would enchant them to have hope – all the news, the stories and the places they never dreamed or imagined knowing of coming right out of the speakers in a time when hope was lost and all they grew up to is despair.

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”

Throughout the novel, we see the world differently through the imagination and feels of Marie-Laure; being bling makes her no short of creative and the world around her heart-achingly beautiful. She grew up to be an outstanding, strong-willed young girl, a girl who doesn’t stay away from a fight, doesn’t look at her feet in shame with her disability; she put every single person that crossed her path to shame themselves for ever doubting what that girl is capable of. It’s like not being able to see the world around her opened up a whole new world inside her mind and soul and we experienced every last bit of it. Being in her mind, behind her thoughts, was so colorful, always strangely hopeful and you can see how big her heart is to fit all those who need to feel warm and safe. The way she drew strength from stories was completely relatable and it warmed my heart to find the words of Jule Verne’s adventures keeping her alive.

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.

It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.” 

Moreover, we live through the in-training-to-be a German soldier when Werner is so young it made my heart crash in pieces. A boy full to the brim with dreams, who chooses a path he believed would lead him to greatness but it turned out it lead him to the front lines of utter hopelessness and gloom. The boy is incredibly smart and with all the ways they train him to shed his humanity like a second skin, it clings to him for dear life. He dreams of seeing the world, of saving lives, yet for most of his live he felt like being in chains with a destiny already decided for himself.

We also get the stories of a man in the army who lost his mind to obsession and illness; a man who shed all his humanity in the search for immortality. We see how the life of Werner’s sister turned out to be, the life of his broken friend and heart-broken teacher.

Skillfully, Doerr weave the lives of both our main characters and light up the ways that against all odds and circumstances, people fight to be good, fight for their last shred of humanity and to be merciful towards one another when all around them could break a stone wall, bring mountains to their knees and turn the most beautiful landscape to ashes.  Against all crushed dreams and hope, we survive and live with the story, every single step of the way.

“We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.”

This book is now one of my absolute favorites ever; it made me feel things that I haven’t in a long, long time, it shook me up and made ball in a corner sobbing, it broke my heart and mend it all again. This book is utterly beautiful, in every ways possible for the word to mean.



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