By Chet Yarbrough
By Anthony Doerr
Narrated by: Zach Appelman
All the Light We Cannot See is an entertaining vignette about a young boy and girl during WWII. The author, Anthony Doerr, is a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award.
He did not win. Not having read the winner of the award, one might think Doerr’s talent is not good enough for first place or for a reader/listener to read. There are a myriad of possible reasons for Doerr’s failure to win; i.e. the winner may have written a better book, awards may be freighted with politics, and/or awards may be merely marketing tools for publishing companies. In any case, Doerr’s book is worthy of every reader/listener’s personal judgment.
One may criticize the integrity of Doerr’s tale (minor story continuity errors) but his writing is among the best of modern novelists. Many of Doerr’s descriptions of life in France and Germany during and after WWII are lyrically beautiful and creatively original. Lyrical beauty is not all Doerr has to offer. Doerr is also powerfully literal. He concretely writes about the brutality of the German war machine, its unconscionable theft of art, its officiousness, mobocracy, and atrocity.
Characters are created by Doerr to exemplify the worst and best of German and French people during and after the war. The atrocity of war is exemplified by the rape of four German women, three minors and one adult; i.e. Doerr shows that women suffer as much from war as from liberation.
Mobocracy is illustrated in the training of young children in German youth camps with the physically stronger pitted against the weaker.
Officiousness is illustrated by single-minded citizen and military fealty to Adolph Hitler’s direction.
Unconscionable theft of art is illustrated by a character that specializes in tracking down and confiscating state-owned and private art.
The resilience of human spirit is demonstrated by Doerr’s lesser characters; i.e. the German youth camp recruit that refuses a leader’s order to pour a bucket of water on a prisoner; the French housemaid that joins the resistance, the great-uncle that overcomes agoraphobia to protect his niece. Each of these minor characters figuratively spit in the face of Hitler’s “master race”.
All the Light We Cannot See is about the literal and figurative blindness of its two main characters. Marie-Louise is blind because of a childhood eye disease. Werner is blind because he only sees the science of life; not its beauty and fragility, until it is too late.
Doerr gives reader/listeners a small illustration of a cataclysmic world event; i.e. a vignette of WWII that tells a story that has been told in every war since the beginning of time. There is no glory in war. There is only death and destruction. There are no winners. There are only survivors.