Marie-Laure LeBlanc has been blind since the age of six. Her papa is the principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. He patiently teaches Marie-Laure how to identify the streets they traverse and has made a scale model of their neighborhood so she can navigate her way by touch. When Paris falls to the Germans in World War II, they are forced flee and walk the 250 miles west to Saint-Malo on the coast of Brittany. There they take shelter in the home of Marie-Laure’s great uncle, Etienne, who has not left his home since the end of World War I.
Werner and Jutta Pfennig live in an orphanage in a mining town outside Essen, Germany. Fair-haired, blue-eyed Werner has an exceptional talent with radios. So exceptional that he is required to leave his sister Jutta behind and enter a brutal school for Hitler youth. He becomes a radio expert and is assigned to track down transmissions by the Resistance.
How their lives become intertwined is a story told in brilliant and lyrical prose but one that seemed hard for members to discuss. Often the questions posed caused long silences as members mulled over their responses trying fathom the scope of a story that tore at their hearts.
Members had high praise for the intricate plot that often left the reader in suspense from chapter to chapter. They lauded Doerr’s exquisite writing and his attention to detail. One point they nearly all agreed on was the initial difficulty they had with the chapters as they jumped back and forth from decade to decade and character to character.
When asked who they admired most in the novel, Marie-Laure whose blindness fostered heightened sensory perceptions, was a clear favorite. A number also praised Uncle Etienne for his bravery in overcoming his agoraphobia.
The group spent a good deal of time discussing the radio and felt it assumed the role of an actual character in the book. They likened the use of the radio by the resistance, to the use today of social media sites that told us of the upheavals during the Arab spring, the continuing Syrian conflict, and unrest in the Middle East.
Members have often been at odds with the Pulitzer committee on their award choices. However, this was not the case with All the Light We Cannot See. This book should at the top of everyone’s reading list.
About the Author
Anthony Doerr was born in 1973 and was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He majored in history at Bowdoin College in Maine and earned an MFA from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Doerr says, “I grew up where to call yourself a writer would be pretentious.” He is the author of two collections of short stories and a memoir about living in Rome for a year. All the Light We Cannot See is his second novel, which took Doerr ten years to write. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his writing including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, both for fiction. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and twin sons.