Monday, January 26, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

genre: historical fiction

A French girl, who has gone blind.

A German boy, scientist turned soldier.

The French girl's father, a locksmith.

A gemologist, desperately searching for something.

A veteran of the first World War, lost in his demons.

These characters and their experiences during the horror of World Ward II are what make up the story of All the Light We Cannot see.  As we move back and forth in time and place, we see the war through the eyes of both the Reich and the French Resistance.  The way all these different people find each other - the pain they both inflict and heal and the light they are capable of bringing, the specific beautiful things which can bring joy, no matter the circumstances - these are the things that make this book incredibly lovely.  Some parts were so poignant and exquisite that it brought tears to my eyes, usually it was moments of stunning beauty amidst the carnage and heartache of war.

I'm feeling particularly torn because it didn't end how I wanted it to.  Meaning, things happened I just didn't like.  Can I rate a book less because things didn't happen how I thought they should?  Is it fair to an author to discount the power of a book because certain character's lives turn out differently than a reader would want?  Since I finished reading it yesterday I have had to give myself some time to really think about this.   I think a younger me would've said yes, that this book only gets 4 stars because I wanted the plot to wrap up differently.  But with some years and some heartache of my own under my belt, I know now that we don't always get to pick what happens to people.  We sometimes have to look for the good and the peace that comes from a hard situation that we didn't choose.

There is too, too much good in this book for me to not give it five stars.  Even though something happened that made me want to throw my Kindle across the room.  Even though there is horrible violence that is really upsetting.  Even WITH those things, there is so much that is startling in its beauty.  The writing is almost poetic.  I think what I liked most was how often people are saved - saved from grief, saved from their demons, saved from their own indifference and saved from themselves.  Saved by memories from their childhood, saved by a choice to do what's right,  saved by thoughts of a bird or a snail or a favorite book, the open ocean or radio waves transmitted across a continent.

Books about a war are not going to be pretty.  I know that and I am learning all the time that life means we don't get to choose what happens to us or the people we love.  For me, this book is about how despite all of the hard, there is light and peace in the good choices we make, in the not giving up when it would make sense to do so, in the small things that we connect with people and places we love.   While I recommend it with caution to sensitive readers (there is strong language, also), I do, definitely still recommend it.

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