There is nothing I love more than when a book, or in this case, an audiobook, pulls me in so tightly and quickly, I lose all sense of time and what's going on around me. That is what happened when I began listening to ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr.
This compelling, historical fiction novel centering around a blind Parisian girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths would, under normal circumstances, probably never cross, proves that even in life's most challenging phases, it can bring out the best in people, even those from two drastically different worlds.
In early 1940's France, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris to escape the Nazis and go to Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle until they can return home, where her father works as the lock maker for the Museum of Natural History. Werner lives in a German orphanage with his sister. After finding a broken transistor radio, and making it work once again, they listen in secret to a man's voice reading children's stories over the airwaves. They are mesmerized by this and wonder where this man could be. Soon Werner's talents become a knack for working on these radios he is recruited by the German army and sent to Hitler's Youth Camp for further training, leaving his sister behind.
Marie-Laure's father later sets out for Paris alone to return a precious item to the museum that had been entrusted to him for safekeeping. This mission was so secret not even his daughter was aware of the valuable item in his possession. Meanwhile, Marie-Laure and her uncle wait for his return.
Werner proves himself very useful to the German's and is sent on expeditions to scout out anyone resisting the Nazi takeover. The fact that his passion for and knowledge of these electronic devices were having a direct effect on progress of the war, and ultimately on people's lives, did not escape Werner and, in fact, caused him great conflict.
Over four years passed and with the end of the Occupation in sight, these two young people from opposite worlds found themselves in the same city wanting the same thing: to return to the life they remembered with the people they love.
Though my synopsis does give a good idea of what this book is about, I left so much out purposefully. It is much deeper and absolutely captivated my attention. I was pulled into Marie-Laure's world of blindness, imagining what it must have been like for her in a strange city with relatives she didn't know, waiting for a father she may never see again. Werner was a boy swept up in a war he didn't undertand simply because he was born German and possessed skills other people needed.
Because I loved it so much, it is difficult for me to review I want to do it justice without saying too much. All I will say is it is a beautifully layered story with sub-plots that give it depth and a lot of feeling. The characters were perfectly developed and authentic to the time, place, and circumstance. It was an easy book to fall into.
Though I'd read where some listeners of this audiobook had trouble keeping up, I didn't have that problem at all. It was all very visual to me, very fluid and completely satisfying. I felt the narrator, Zach Appelman, did a terrific job with his interpretation. I would not hesitate to listen to any of his other performances.
Whether in book form or audio, I would highly recommend this book to readers who really enjoy historical fiction, particularly the Nazi Occupation of France. About a year or so ago I began seeing more books on this topic and I find myself drawn to their perspectives. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is definitely worth reading.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Anthony Doerr
Narrator: Zach Appelman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: May 2014
Length: 16 hrs 2 mins