To be honest, I was half skeptical when I first read the synopsis of “All The Light We Cannot See” for I thought to myself, ‘How different could another World War Two story be?’ But I was happily proven otherwise because this 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner by Anthony Doerr is an absolute stunner.
War is arguably an institutional feature in the international society, a description that devoid of emotions and conjures up images of men in suits, negotiating tables and marching soldiers. This book takes war out of the hands of adults and thrusts them into that of children, blind French girl Marie-Laure and orphaned German boy Warner.
It maps the divergent paths they took during the Second World War, a period where they experience drastic changes and the pains of growing up. They were confronted with difficult decisions that people around them were making, but unknown to them was that these decisions were mainly made to shelter them from the harsh realities that were unfolding. In the years to come, these moments would continue haunt them for the rest of their lives.
This is also a testimony of the indomitable human spirit that triumphed even in the darkest moments of history. It was the innocence and purity of the children’s minds that became the bright spot in an otherwise depressing war story.
“Do you think, Madame, that in heaven we will really get to see God face-to-face?”
“What if you’re blind?”
“I’d expect that if God wants us to see something, we’ll see it.”
“Uncle Etienne says heaven is like a blanket babies cling to. He says people have flown airplanes ten kilometers above the earth and found no kingdoms there. No gates, no angels.”…
“You are thinking of your father,” she finally says. “You have to believe your father will return.”
“Don’t you ever get tried of believing, Madame? Don’t you ever want proof?”
Although narrated from a children’s point of view, the book did not shy away from the hard truth – at the end of the day, there can be no true winners in war. But this seemingly senselessness of war lies not with the individual but is rather a product of the system that numbs deviance and individuality. In Werner’s words, ‘The entropy of a closed system never decreases.’
I was also struck by how Doerr explored ideas of kinship, which is an inherently complex subject that varies across families, for these are ties that come along with many spoken and unspoken rules, baggage, duties, responsibilities, memories and a smorgasbord of emotions. As such, I always find it fascinating to read about how authors approach this subject, and for this piece, fatherhood was particularly well-done.
There is pride, too, though – pride that he has done it alone. That his daughter is so curious, so resilient. There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.
This was a perfect read for me while in the dead of winter. What have you been reading throughout this winter? Share with me in the comments box below!