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Published on: 08/19/16 11:39 AM

Book review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is more a brief take than review.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. HarperCollins.
Anthony Doerr is a celebrated writer who has written other very moving stories but All The Light We Cannot See (2014) stands one level above all of them. This story, of a few lives tightly intertwined in the days of the Second World War,  is written like a screenplay (optioned already, in most probability!) with separate frames showing us the lives of its main protagonists, Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure Leblanc, and the convergence isalmost unbearably beautiful.
Werner, the German orphan of unknown but in all probability `pure` parentage, a brilliant radio engineer in the making,  has his life pretty much mapped out for him when he is made to join the Wehrmacht. He puts his brilliant mind to the use of his masters, and tries his level best to squash all the doubts that keep rising up to his mind like the inexorable tide. And like the tide, these waves of doubts do not go away completely, they just ebb and flow, ebb and flow.
Marie- Laure is as  helpless a pawn in the conflict of life; she has slowly gone blind and her doting father, a locksmith who works at the Museum of Natural History in Paris,  just happens to be doing something very dangerous. When the Germans occupy  Paris, the two move to her great-uncle`s sprawling family house in Saint-Malo in beautiful and bleak Brittany, and all too soon, her father’s activities catch up with him… or rather, the Germans do.
Enmeshed with these two lives are others: Jutta the little sister Werner leaves behind when he goes out to fight a war he didn’t seek to fight; Madame Manec , the faithful and feisty family retainer at great uncle Etienne`s house who suddenly turns Résistance fighter; Etienne who lost the moorings of his mind a while ago and is now struggling to keep it all together for the sake of his blind niece. And a German Sergeant Major who is an expert on diamonds, because at the heart of this story is a magnificent  blue diamond with dancing red flames at its centre, the Sea of Flames, and the attempt to keep it out of Nazi hands.
The dread and devastation, the misery and hope, the little pockets of courage in war is beautifully delineated in Doerr`s story. Quite deservedly, this jewel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
All The Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerrlove storymissing diamondoccupation of FranceSea of FlamesWorld War II

Sheila Kumar • August 19, 2016

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