Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See

Book cover

Book cover

I recently joined a book club, figuring that it was probably a no-brainer to combine socializing with reading. Although now that I think about it, one of the great things about reading is that it is a solitary pursuit, and thus dear to an introvert’s heart. Hmm…

Well so in any case, I’m trying something new and will let you know if it works out. The nice thing is that I do have a friend who is joining me in this pursuit. So the appeal of getting some hang-out time with someone I actually like may help me get over any other shortcomings that sharing my reading experience may prove to have.

Our book club is going to be focusing on New York Times bestsellers and the book chosen for this month is Anthony Doerr‘s All the Light We Cannot See. It is fiction, and runs on a timeline from approximately 1934 through mostly 1944/the end of WWII. There are a few chapters that track the characters beyond that, but they are more conclusion segments versus the meat of the book.

My husband and I are huge history buffs, particularly that of the WWII-era and the Civil War. I’ve never read any of Mr. Doerr’s books, and had no idea what this one was about when I received notice that it had been chosen for October. However, I was very relieved to find myself immersed in a story based during this time frame.

I think the point of book reviews, besides the feelings of empowerment that waxing poetic on the written word inspires in book nerds like me, is to pique the interest of other readers without giving the ending away. Maybe? I don’t know, so I’ll err on the side of caution with this one and try not to spoil things too badly.

What I experienced: A well-told story with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Some of my favorite books are like paintings made out of words. They evoke such a powerful sense of time, place, and image that it’s hard not to believe that you hadn’t seen it all play out before your eyes.

And of course imagery was a key component of the story. The images of the world that couldn’t be seen by a blind, main character. The images of innovation and discovery that fascinate so many of the characters in the book and keep them pushing towards adventure, bravery, life. The words that made their way through the ether via radio, bringing both life and death. This was a weighty book in length and subject matter and I read as fast as I could because I needed to know what fate had in store for these characters.

Not to digress too much, but as I was reading this book, the movie Fury also came out in theaters. So of course, hubs and I were there a few days after it came out. Given the nature of the movie, saying that I “enjoyed it” is not quite appropriate. I did appreciate it and think it was well-done. Also set during WWII, it is not a feel good piece and it is perhaps more graphic than some will stomach. Some of the actions of the main characters, including that of actor Brad Pitt, were grim and devoid of conscience. And perhaps that grit and element of humanity is what made the movie work. War is ugly. The warriors who fight in it- of all shapes and sizes, politics and purpose- are human and are sometimes reforged into heroes, and sometimes into something less-than-palatable. And many are likely both.

These elements of cold, ugly reality also played out in Mr. Doerr’s book. No character was left untouched by the second Great War, as was the case in real life. This story I think reminds the reader of that. And while certainly, as had happened in the book, life has gone on and is unarguably for the better in terms of the lack of depravities once experienced. Well…it has also gone on with no magic cure that erases the fact that what happened had come to pass. Indeed in this tale, the past resurfaces to remind many of the characters of both light and dark. Perhaps, in the end, that is the only way mankind moves forward…hopefully not repeating the horrors of the past.

The verdict: I would recommend this book to anyone, though I’m sure not all will take on the tale. It will certainly continue to have a place on my bookshelves.

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