At 6 years old, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father, who works at the nearby Museum of Natural History, builds a miniature model of their neighbourhood in hopes that she would memorize it and be able to navigate on her own out in the real world. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and they flee to her great uncle’s home by the sea to protect what might be the museum’s most valuable diamond. Meanwhile in Germany, young orphan Werner discovers the magic of the radio and he becomes immersed in learning how these machines work. He’s put on assignment to seek out the resistance and, in turn, makes an unlikely discovery.
Told in alternating points of view, this story of war-torn Europe through the eyes of two teenagers is captivating. At over 500 pages I was prepared for a long drawn-out war story but the short chapters read like small vignettes as the reader gets a glimpse into what Marie-Laure and Werner are experiencing during this tumultuous time. The way that Doerr has broken out the storytelling really made the narrative keep moving easily along.
Both young and struggling to survive while mentally alone, the contrast between the two characters is subtle yet poignant. The fact that Marie-Laure cannot see but uses her hearing and sense of touch to navigate day-to-day life while Werner fiddles with radios to pick up unseen signals to hear. I loved the similar-yet-different scenarios that they were both in, both fearing for their lives and witnessing the horrors of war. Adding to the tension is the race again time told from a third perspective, a man who’s hunting down the one who was tasked for protecting the valuable diamond when there were 3 copies made, mixed in with the genuine one. The man is suffering from his own pains as seeks fortune and glory. The way in which the stories exist & coexist is fantastic to see unfold.
All the Light We Cannot See was a moving and enjoyable read. I can see why it has made it onto so many acclaimed lists.