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Fixed on Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See

On Thursday, March 17th, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-

     From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
      Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where   Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
     In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
     Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
–Summary of Goodreads.

We had a delightful discussion of All the Light We Cannot See, which earned 8 thumbs-up votes and one thumbs-down. Here are some of the initial comments readers made while sharing their votes-

  • This is my favorite book we have read so far. I like stories that are about something bigger than the characters. You didn’t even have to love these characters, the story was so great.
  • I can’t explain what chord this story struck with me, but I read this book some time ago and it has stayed with me.
  • This was my second time reading All the Light We Cannot See and I really enjoyed the opportunity to take in the smaller details. I thought it was interesting that it presented multiple sides of the war- French and German. Poignant.
  • Doerr developed so many characters so well. I was so eager to get through the story and see what happened that I almost had a hard time with the short, choppy chapters.
  • This wasn’t a perfect book, but I definitely give it a thumbs-up. The blurb makes it sound like two lives intersect but they (Marie-Laure and Werner) were hardly together at all. I thought the 2014 bit at the end felt sort of tacked-on. And the ending was jarring when the rest of the story felt like a fairy tale. The end jolted me out of the story.

*We discussed fairy tale themes for a bit at this point- the epic quest for the magical diamond that will allow you to live forever, saving the damsel in distress from the bad guy, the magic of the radio…

  • There were many things I liked individually, but as a whole my thumb is down. It didn’t come together as a satisfying whole. I didn’t feel like the book knew what it was. I had a problem with the diamond being “magical.” The sub-plot that was von Rumpel was very one-dimensional, but the other characters were better developed. I liked the development of Marie-Laure and Werner. It was a compelling book, but not “WOW!” Although the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea motif was beautiful.
  • I liked the father-daughter relationship. There were so many themes we could discuss- the light, self-protection, the impact of propaganda/lies…I also loved the serendipity of the fact that Werner’s professor on the radio was actually Marie-Laure’s grandfather.
  • I really liked the short, little chapters. And I liked the book but I don’t feel like I have to read something else by Doerr, which is how I usually feel after reading a good book.

*Another reader chimed in and said that the story was so amazing on its own, you didn’t need anything more.

On characters we enjoyed the most and characters we wanted more insight into-

  • I would have loved to have known more about Frederick. When he got those pages from the bird book…what happened to him? Did it stimulate any response?
  • Werner. I thought a lot about his feelings. How he was trained, the little girl who died, his entrapment.

On the conclusion-

  • Why did Marie-Laure give Werner the key? In case he needed a place to hide? Perhaps he left the diamond in the water out of respect for Marie-Laure’s decision.
  • Did Werner commit suicide? There was no coming back for him. After everything he saw and everything he experienced, how could he return to normal life?
  • I was a bit shocked at the land mine. But there were a lot of elements of reality that came into play at the end of the book.

Other titles (books and movies) that were mentioned during our discussion-

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