“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is, quite frankly, the best World War II book I’ve ever read. Doerr’s crisp writing manages to perfectly capture the time and place, offering a rare intimate perspective on the most turbulent time in world history.
All the Light follows the stories of two children in 1930s Europe who grow up as the war develops. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind girl living in Paris who has learned her way around the city by studying a small model her father has built for her. However, it’s not long before Nazi occupation forces them to flee through the ruined countryside to a small ocean town to wait out their time until the war catches up with them. Doerr immerses you in her life, bringing you inside her head by providing a perfect picture of blindness as she is dragged away to find safety, leaving everything behind save for the dangerous secret her father is carrying.
Meanwhile in a small German mining town, Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are living in an orphanage as the Nazi propaganda machine rises to power around them. As Werner discovers his natural talents for science and engineering, he searches for a way to avoid his destiny down in the mines. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this book is that it comes from a point of view that isn’t often thought about. It’s more than just a book about history; it’s a book about the people living through it: a generation that had their youth stolen from them.
With Doerr’s masterful technique and chilling descriptions this is a novel that will keep you flipping the pages from start to finish. It’s risen to the top of many lists in just a short amount of time, and it’s easy to see why. Any book in which the characters that seem so real that you feel you could reach in to comfort them deserves to be read.