I want to begin this post by saying that I without the lovely Tracy (@trufflebooks), I would’ve never been able to start this book when I did. She is an amazing human follow her on Instagram!
I believe that in the audiobook version of any novel with triggers – i.e. sexual assault, rape, and violent scenes – the novel should be prefaced alerting the reader to any possible triggers that could arise so suddenly. Audiobooks are more shocking in events as there is not a chance of your eyes catching other words on a page when listening to someone speak those words to you.
Blurb: The epic new novel from Sunday Times Short Story Prize-winner Anthony Doerr. Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall. In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure. Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.
Unlike most books I read, I knew a brief summary of the plot before I dove into this novel. I had an idea that it involved a Hitler Youth boy and a blind girl and I thought there’d be a friendship or romance between them; something forbidden, although what ensued was something unexpected but wonderful at the same time.
This dual perspective novel (audiobook version) was hard to keep up with at the start, with all the shifting back and forth between time, but a few small chapters in I understood that both Werner and Marie-Laure’s stories were to be so vastly different in much the same time of war. Two sides of a single coin. Both young children with big dreams and big hearts. One forced to serve the Fuhrer; the other forced to flee as the war bites at her heels, unrelenting.
I must commend Doerr on his magnificent imagery. The novel was told entirely by setting the scene using all of the 5 senses, sometimes 4 when necessary and in those moments I felt as blind as Marie-Laure walking the streets of the town. I could see Werner and his sister Juta lying on his cot listening to the radio he’d fixed up, so clearly as if I was in the room with them.
The beautiful descriptions carried me through the book, though did not make me feel like an outsider looking in, rather an extension of the main character grounded there with them on their journey. I screamed at their superiors and cried when they fell; cheered when they rose and remembered when they did.
The reading experience was enhanced by the wonderful narration of the novel by Julie Teal who pronounced the French and German words with pinpoint accuracy. This made me as a listener/ reader feel far more immersed within the world as I would never have been able to pronounce the words otherwise.
Although I’d like to point out a flaw in this novel. I do love the integration of other languages within English novels; I believe it is wonderful and an amazing learning tool, although there were points in the novel where an entire paragraph was written in French with no interpretation or hinting at what it could mean. This lets me down a little bit, especially when there were words vital to the story spoken in another language. A short glossary would’ve been perfect either somewhere in the physical book or on some notes at the end of the Audiobook perhaps.
I want to go back to my above statement on trigger warnings. I understand it’s about Nazi Germany and occupied France, and these kinds of stories seem to be filled more with the history and gruesome details of what really occurred, but All The Light We Cannot See is far more raw and real than WWII based books like The Book Thief, which in comparison is a much softer version of events.
I was finishing up the last parts of the novel on the train today, as Julie’s voice sounded through my earphones at 1.2x speed, the war was ending, American’s taking prisoners and men wanted revenge. The first of two things happened, which had me screaming. I just wanted a happy ending like all novels, though no end comes without heartbreak and this story had more to give than just the perils of war.
Despite the what could be graphic scenes of rape and death, Doerr did an amazing job at keeping the details muted as if the story was told from someone on the other side of a door (in one case quite literally). He spared the details of the acts; and though it didn’t make it less heart-breaking to listen to (as it was quite unexpected), I felt that it was handled in an unoffensive, professional manner.
This book has both ruined and scarred me, though also humbled my ignorant heart. It is a story that will stay with me as a lesson to understand that there are innocent people caught up within the confines of war, and what their country chooses to do should not be reflected on those forced to comply with the system they were forced into.
There was a somewhat happy ending, but as with the theme of this whole novel, it was kept entirely realistic; a quality of this story that I absolutely adore. If there is any book I am going to recommend to someone looking to understand the lives of those trapped within the confines of war, it will be this novel.
★ Rating ★
I had a hard time choosing a star rating for this novel. Frankly, I don’t believe this particular book should be rated. The writing is magnificent with such stunning imagery and well-developed characters, though I decided on a ★★★★☆ (4/5 stars) and not a full 5 stars due to my own feelings towards the novel.
I feel as though when rating and reviewing a book, the reviewer is allowed to choose whether they base their rating off of feelings or purely criticizing the writing, plot, storyline, etc. So, in this case, I decided on the final result from my heart, since a full 5/5 did not fit within my guidelines of a magnificent book that I’d hand on to every woman, man and child.
What are your thoughts on novels set in WWII Nazi era? I personally like them as they’re so full of history and intrigue, and they’re the only war genre I let myself read.
What are your thoughts on this review?? I am very proud of this particular review as I put everything I felt into it in such a coherent manner. I hope you all felt the same!
Thank You, With Love Bree xx
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