December 14, 2015

On My Bookshelf: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

In All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer the lives of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German orphan recruited by the Nazis, intersect in extraordinary ways in a tale full of magic and beautiful details. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Basic Plot from Amazon: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Why I liked it: While having two alternating points of view is a popular narrative technique, in All The Light We Cannot See, the two characters are incredibly unique and equally interesting. Werner and his sister Julia grow up in an orphanage overseen by a French nun, where Werner teaches himself to repair radios and is eventually recruited by the Nazis because of his talents. Marie-Laure loses her vision to the point of blindness and spends her days roaming Paris' Museum of Natural History where her father works. She and her father have a profound bond, and it is he who teaches her how to exist in her world without the gift of sight. When World War II begins, her father is given a valuable gem or possibly one of its replicas to protect, a responsibility that eventually falls on Marie-Laure. Also appealing was that moments in the novel were magical, almost fantastical, with Naria-esque elements to the settings of the museum and Marie-Laure's great-uncle’s house.

Classroom application: The book could be used as a fiction pairing with a unit on WWII. The text reveals the effects of war on the lives of everyday people, life in the German army, and resistance efforts without overwhelming the reader with the horrors of war. The development and use of radio in the text also has science connections. The book would also make a great mentor text for developing atypical characters and practicing with alternating point of views in a narrative.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of All The Light We Cannot See for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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