All the Light We Cannot See

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All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr novel).jpg
AuthorAnthony Doerr
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreHistorical
Published2014 (Scribner)
Media typePrint (hardback and softback)
Pages544 (hardback); 531 (softback)
ISBN978-1-4767-4658-6
OCLC852226410

All the Light We Cannot See is a war novel written by American author Anthony Doerr, published by Scribner on May 6, 2014. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Set in occupied France during World War II, the novel centers on a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths eventually cross.

Plot[edit]

In 1934, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a six year old blind girl living in Paris with her father, the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. Her father constructs a scale model of their neighborhood to help her visualize her surroundings.

In Germany, seven year-old Werner Pfennig is an orphan in the coal-mining town of Zollverein. Werner is exceptionally bright and has a natural skill for repairing radios. After he finds a broken one with his younger sister Jutta, he fixes it and he uses it to hear science and music programs transmitted across Europe.

When Germany invades France in 1940, Marie-Laure and her father flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to take refuge with her great-uncle Etienne, a recluse and shellshocked veteran of the Great War who spent his time broadcasting old records of his dead brother across Europe. Werner's skill earns him a place at the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, a boarding school teaching Nazi values. Werner is obedient and highly efficient in technical work. His age is wrongly increased in the papers to put him out of school and is soon placed in the Wehrmacht, tracking illegal enemy signals alongside Volkheimer, a large yet gentle soldier from Schulpforta.

As the Allied forces lay siege to Saint-Malo, Werner is trapped beneath a pile of rubble, where he stays alive without food or water for days just by listening to Marie-Laure's radio broadcasts in which she reads from her Jules Verne novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea which was in Braille.

The story ends in 2014 with Marie-Laure, now 86 years old, walking with her grandson Michel in the streets of Paris where she grew up.

Characters[edit]

Marie-Laure's side[edit]

  • Marie-Laure LeBlanc – A blind French girl; the first main protagonist
  • Daniel LeBlanc – Marie-Laure's father and the head locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris
  • Etienne LeBlanc – Marie-Laure's great-uncle and a resident of Saint-Malo
  • Madame Manec – Etienne's longtime maid and housekeeper

Werner's side[edit]

  • Werner Pfennig – A German orphan boy, very scientifically gifted; the second main protagonist
  • Jutta Pfennig – Werner's sister
  • Frau Elena – caretaker of Werner and Jutta in the orphanage
  • Hauptmann – Werner's professor at Schulpforta
  • Frederick – Werner's friend; very strong-willed
  • Frank Volkheimer – Werner's friend; a sergeant in the German army
  • Neumann One – A member of Werner's unit in the Wehrmacht
  • Neumann Two – A member of Werner's unit in the Wehrmacht
  • Walter Bernd - A German engineer

Other characters[edit]

  • Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel – a sergeant major and gemologist in the German army; the main antagonist

Reception[edit]

All the Light We Cannot See was received mostly positively by critics. William T. Vollmann, writing for The New York Times Book Review, praised the novel's writing style and the character development of Marie-Laure, whom he calls "an exquisitely realized creation", but he criticized stereotyping of Nazism, particularly the perceived one-dimensionality of Frederick and von Rumpel.[1] Carmen Callil, by contrast, wrote that "[t]he chapters on Werner's schooling ... are the best in the book" in a review for The Guardian. Although applauding Doerr's attention to detail, she considers the novel too long and the dialogue too American.[2]

In a review in The Boston Globe, John Freeman praises Doerr's work, calling his language "fresh" and noting how "he allows simple details to say much".[3] Amanda Vaill, in a review in The Washington Post, admires how the book is "[e]nthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears, [but] it is completely unsentimental." She writes, "Every piece of backstory reveals information that charges the emerging narrative with significance, until at last the puzzle-box of the plot slides open to reveal the treasure hidden inside."[4]

In a critical review, the World Socialist Web Site's Leah Jeresova praises Doerr's "attention to the theme of human empathy" but says a "major defect of the novel is Doerr’s inability to analyze the roots of the catastrophe of the Second World War."[5]

The novel spent 130 consecutive weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.[6] The New York Times also named it one of its 10 best books of the year.[7] The novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award.[8] Sales tripled the week after it lost to Redeployment by Phil Klay.[9]

The novel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction[10] and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.[11][12]

The novel was runner-up for the 2015 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction[13] and won the 2015 Ohioana Library Association Book Award for Fiction.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Vollmann, William T. (May 8, 2014). "Darkness Visible". The New York Times Book Review. Archived from the original on March 13, 2018. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  2. ^ Callil, Carmen (May 17, 2014). "All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr review – a story of morality, science and Nazi occupation". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  3. ^ Freeman, John (May 3, 2014). "'All the Light We Cannot See' by Anthony Doerr". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on June 28, 2017. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  4. ^ Vaill, Amanda (May 5, 2014). "'All the Light We Cannot See,' by Anthony Doerr". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  5. ^ Jeresova, Leah. "Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See": All the history the novelist cannot see". www.wsws.org. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  6. ^ "Hardcover Fiction Books - Best Sellers - November 27, 2016 - The New York Times". Archived from the original on May 25, 2018. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  7. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2014". The New York Times. December 4, 2014. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  8. ^ "Get To Know The Finalists For The 2014 National Book Award". NPR.org. Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  9. ^ Alter, Alexandra (December 26, 2014). "Anthony's Doerr's 'All the Light We Cannot See' Hits It Big". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  10. ^ Flood, Alison (April 21, 2015). "Pulitzer prize for fiction goes to All the Light We Cannot See". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  11. ^ "Anthony Doerr wins Carnegie Medal for fiction". Midcontinent Communications. Associated Press. June 28, 2015. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  12. ^ "'All the Light We Cannot See,' 'Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption' win 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction | News and Press Center". www.ala.org. July 1, 2015. Archived from the original on October 6, 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  13. ^ D. Verne Morland. "Dayton Literary Peace Prize – Anthony Doerr, 2015 Fiction Runner-Up". daytonliterarypeaceprize.org. Archived from the original on 2015-12-08.
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2015-12-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]