For Marie- Laure, it all starts with the Sea of Flames and the legend behind it- of one rare blue teardrop diamond with a flare of red in the center, with the power of immortality to the owner at the price of a curse: ill fate to those dearest. It was a centuries old story that Marie-Laure wasn’t quite convinced was true, but she pondered the legend anyways, imagining what the diamond would look like- for not only was she blind, but the jewel was said to be held deep in a vault with thirteen doors. After all, her father, security and keeper of the keys at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, worked in close proximity to the vault.
For Werner, it all starts with a copy of a popular mechanics magazine and a simple radio, listening to a broadcast from who knows where of a man teaching science. An orphan living with his sister, Jutta, at Children’s House (an orphanage), Werner was eager to understand the world around him, studying conduits and gears, magnets and electricity, and eventually becoming extremely talented at fashioning simple machines and fixing even the most complex radios. When a German officer has him repair his radio, Werner is inspired by his praise and decides to attend the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, in an effort to make something of himself- to go far, do well.
What these two young children aren’t expecting is the start of World War II, and how quickly it would change their lives.
For Marie-Laure, she would flee with her father to Saint-Malo, having to learn the area through her father and his handcrafted wooden replica of the town by feel and sound. Her great-uncle Etienne, who fought in World War I and still battled his demons post-war, and his housekeeper, Madame Manec, took them in, eventually becoming Marie-Laure’s guardians when her father is caught and sent to a labor camp in Germany. Determined to aid the allied war effort, Madame, Marie-Laure, and even Etienne risk their lives running operations in code through the sound waves of Etienne’s radio.
For Werner, he would become one of Hitler’s Youth, learning the cold methodology of the Nazi SS organization. Though he witnessed the cruelty of the system, there didn’t seem to be a way to stand up against it- nor was he sure that he could. Attempting to keep his nose to the grindstone, he surprises one of his teachers with his quick ability to produce simple mechanics and electronics, and becomes a favorite of his instructor. Then, when Werner tries to level the favoritism playing field between himself and his peers, the instructor turns against him and enlists him. As a soldier in Hitler’s Army, he scans the radio waves for illicit transmitters, ones that could be aiding the allied war effort.
As the two plot lines connect, the pages seem to turn faster and faster as the reader learns what is to become of the now young adults. It’s a beautiful story, and the sensual visualizations (sight, sound, even tactile) that Doerr gives the reader through his two main characters is so realistic that it’s like you are there, witnessing everything for yourself. I also enjoyed reading about World War II from yet another point of view, in which the characters are affected by the war differently than some other novels I’ve read- though it still reads heavy because no matter who is talking about the subject matter, the subject is still about the one of the darkest times in our history. I should also mention that the chapters alternate by character and are very short, so though it is a 500+ page novel, it still reads rather quick.
Overall, I’d recommend All The Light We Cannot See, but I wasn’t as enamored with it as I thought I would be. It’s a good story, and if I found the book on one of my Goodwill hauls, I’d certainly pick it up, but I’m not rushing to the store for my own personal copy. I’m glad that I did read it though, and would say that those who recommended it to me were spot on in saying that I would enjoy it!