All the Light We Cannot See

Read this book.

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is an immaculate work of art like few other novels published in recent years. Set during World War II, from occupied France to the farthest edges of Eastern Europe, All the Light We Cannot See is about the intersecting lives of a young boy entering the German Army early in the war and a blind girl living in France. However, it’s also a tale of greed and a German sergeant major’s quest to find the “Sea of Flames,” an incredibly valuable diamond said to both bring immortality to its possessor and death to the owner’s loved ones. At the same time, it is also a story of underground radio broadcasts that reminded me of the excellent German movie The Secret Lives of Others.

What is perhaps most alluring about this book is Doerr’s prose, which is nothing less than spine-tingling, and reminiscent of another master of the craft, Michael Ondaatje.

Here are some examples of Doerr’s literary magic from his multiple prize-winning novel:

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

“She walks like a ballerina in dance slippers, her feet as articulate as hands, a little vessel of grace moving out into the fog.”  

“To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.”

“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.”

My book club, Curling Was Full, read this book last month and in a rare moment of solidarity, everybody agreed that this was a very, very special book. The lesson to take away from this? Do yourself a favour. Go and get a copy of All the Light We Cannot See.

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