the wonderful world of veena.

30 January 2015

book number two of 2015: all the light we cannot see [anthony doerr].

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See has been getting rave reviews for months. I purchased the Kindle version last fall, but generally when I am at home I read physical books, not digital ones, so it got put on the back burner. But since I am currently transient, I figured now was as good a time as any to dust off the old e-reader and see what I've collected on there in the last few months.

And man, was I blown away.

All the Light We Cannot See tells the parallel and sometimes intertwining stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure grows up in Paris in the 1930s and 40s with her father, the head locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History. At the same time, Werner and his sister Jutta grow up with other childless parents at Children's House in Germany.

As children, both experience life-changing events. Marie-Laure's occurs when she loses her eyesight and has to learn to navigate Paris in a different way, using her father's wooden models of their neighbourhood to learn her way around. Werner's comes when he discovers a discarded radio and teaches himself how to fix it, thus changing the trajectory of his life.

As both grow up, they continue to learn the different ways their childhood experiences have changed their lives in the leadup to and the outbreak of World War II. For Marie-Laure, that means she and her father must leave Paris during its occupation and travel to the Breton coast to escape the German army. For Werner it means attending a military schools and using his skills as a radio engineer to help the German army locate the illegal radio broadcasts of its enemies.

I got so wrapped up in both Marie-Laure's and Werner's stories that I wanted to know even more about their lives. It's no secret that I have long been fascinated by WW2, and this book only served to feed into that fascination. I just cannot imagine what it would have been like to live in Paris and have to abandon my home and all my possessions just to survive. It's absolutely mind-blowing. Or to be a young boy growing up in Hitler's Germany, an orphan with no options other than going down into the mines or joining the army.

Doerr's book was exquisitely written, and I raced through the 500-odd pages in just over a week. I quite literally could not put it down, reading in autos on my morning commute, before and after dinner, and late into the night. It was both a quick and a thought-provoking read, and although there was one point late in the story where I was so shocked I had to walk away from it for a little while, I ultimately came around and finished it. It was fantastic.

There is a third parallel storyline, about a priceless historical gem known as the Sea of Flames, but to divulge its history and story would be to give away too much. You'll have to read the book to find out more.

Which you should do regardless. It's great.

My favourite line, which I highlighted no fewer than 4 times throughout the book: "Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever".

next up: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. the first book of hers I'm reading since The Poisonwood Bible, and I am enjoying it thus far.

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