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Book Club recommendation: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Our book club really enjoyed reading All the Light We Cannot See. There was some comment that the lack of chronology, and the changing story strands could be confusing, but it was felt this could be overcome if one had the opportunity to read it in large chunks. However, short clear chapters made navigation easier. Anthony Doerr had said that the book’s style was in part because he was sleep deprived after the birth of his son and could only manage short passages at a time, and found large clear sections of white between passages soothing!!
The characters in the book were well drawn and unusual in the context of ‘another second world war book’. This book felt very different from many other Second World War Books, and it was interesting that though the war ended over 70 years ago it remained such an involving subject.
Several intriguing themes intertwined throughout which made “All The Light” all the more involving and enjoyable:
  • The mystery of the jewel, and the hunt to find it. The malevolent power of the diamond, the hunt for the diamond by the Nazis and the decoy diamonds.
  • The concept of a miniature model to help the blind girl navigate her environment, which was both charming and clever. The book also gave a good insight into what it might be like to be blind.
  • The role of family & community in war – Werner’s relationship with his sister, Marie-Laure and her father, the community in the orphanage, military school, and St Malo are all well drawn.
  • The power of information through the role of radio in the orphans lives, empowering the Resistance, and then bringing Werner and Marie-Laure together.  It was felt that Werner’s fascination with the stories on the radio had to some extent insulated him from Nazi propoganda.
  • The latent fear about disability and being Jewish under the Nazi regime, Werner is secretly a Jew, Marie-Laure is blind, Werners friend becomes a cripple and has to be hidden away.
  • The ascendence of brutality and sadism in war, which were highlighted in the brutal beating of Werner’s friend, the casual cruelty encouraged amoungst the young cadets, even in the isolation and suspicion in St Malo.  And yet acts of individual bravery, and the survival instinct drew people together were also clearly and imaginatively brought to life e.g. ‘bread code’ in St Malo bakery.
  • The depiction of St Malo encouraged some to want to visit it, and look at the town again in the context of war, and to find out if the cave was real
  • Werner and Marie-Laure only meet for a day, and he rescues her. Despite the fact that their stories have been interwoven throughout the book, this passage is sensitively done and concentrates on his fascination with her and the music, rather than developing into a classic love story.

 

In the last chapters Jutta, travels to St Malo. She is careful not to speak German, as she feels very aware of her country’s role in the war and possibility feels guilty? However, she realises on arrival that there are so many tourists there that she does not need to be be concerned.

 

Overall it was felt that the book was beautifully written (apparently it took 10 years!)
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