All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony DoerrWhen reading this book, one of my first comments to my husband was how deeply evocative Idaho writer Doerr's writing is...and how it makes me feel a bit stupid. Later I learned that Doerr spent 10 years researching and writing this book, and it shows.
I tend to love sprawling wartime sagas about people around the world, all experiencing the horrors of war in different ways and circumstances. Marie-Laure is a precocious, bright French child going blind, while Werner is a German orphan who eventually finds the Hitler Youth as his only viable way out of the orphanage. Doerr skillfully weaves their stories together, intermixed with beautiful details about shells, museum archiving and curating, the lifeblood of radios during wartime, precious gems, the cruelty of the Third Reich, mental illness, the French Resistance, and the reality of war for everyday citizens. It will make you realize that when you're poor, orphaned, extremely bright, and German during the war, you don't have very many options available.
Sometimes I thought Doerr spent too much time on minor characters...I would have liked to learn more about Marie-Laure's father, for example, and less about the Nazi gem hunter. And the scene near the end, when Werner is nearly buried alive in bomb wreckage in a cellar? I found myself scanning. It went on far too long. Some of the coincidences are a bit far-fetched, so the book is not perfect.
But damn if it didn't drive me to the Internet to find out about the enchanting walled town in France where Marie-Laure finds refuge. It's called Saint-Malo, and it's on the Brittany coast in northwestern France. The colorful descriptions of this town, and the beautiful relationships Marie-Laure has with her father and uncle (and the precious miniature gifts her father created for her), are my favorite parts of this novel.