As far as blind girls go, Marie-Laure is hands down the bravest, luckiest, most incredible you will ever meet. Most of the thanks go to her father, the keeper of keys and locks at a large Parisian Natural History museum. He refuses to let his young daughter despair when she loses her eyesight at the age of six and instead constructs tiny wooden replicas of her neighborhood so that she may learn them by her fingers and then find her way about town with her feet. When Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee Paris as WWII looms, they seek refuge at an estranged uncle’s house in Saint-Malo on the coast of France.
While Marie-Laure is learning her way around her temporary home with her fingers and another small model city, a young German boy named Werner is miles away, using his fingers to learn his way around a rudimentary radio he and his sister found on the streets. An understated orphan (not very Oliver Twist-ian), Werner discovers he has a skill for understanding and repairing radios – a skill that lands him in an exclusive military training school and eventually on a team of men who hunt down Resistance members broadcasting on illegal radio frequencies.
Although the paths of Marie-Laure and Werner eventually cross, All the Light We Cannot See is not necessarily a love story. Rather it is a story of good people trying to continue to be good people in the face of war. It is beautiful – every word. Fans of The Invisible Bridge, Birdsong, and Those Who Save Us will rejoice – All the Light We Cannot See is the World War II novel of the year.
Review by Elizabeth Schieber
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, May 6, 2014)