Award winning author Anthony Doerr won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize with his profound book All The Light We Cannot See. His writing draws pictures in the mind’s eye more clearly and memorably than what most movies offer. One key mark of any truly great work found in this particular book is that the plot isn’t the only thing that keeps you interested. As I read this book I was just as excited to see how the author was going to write the next chapter as I was curious about what would happen next.
The events in All The Light We Cannot See take place during WWII yet the book is not overly interested in the war. Rather the war-torn Europe is merely the setting for the lives of several fascinating characters. This book primarily follows the lives of three main characters: A blind French girl, a German boy with a knack for fixing electronics, and a dying Nazi gemologist. Marie-Laure grew up with her father who works for a museum and later with her crazy yet brilliant great uncle Etienne Leblanc. The small and introverted orphan Werner finds himself enrolled in a Nazi academy due to his courage and aptitude for building cutting-edge electronics. Colonel Von Rumpel could care less about the fate of the war. He is already dying and has one hope to save himself. The stories of these separate characters weave around each other until they tie together at the end creating a truly fascinating story.
Although all the characters are equally interesting, I’m going to focus on little Marie-Laure. Her story is a powerful testament to the fact that all people are special and have meaning in this world. She completely lost her eyesight as a young child and had to learn how survive without it. However she ends up doing far more than merely surviving. She ends up seeing the splendors of this world that are often missed by people with sight.
She grows up with the most loving of fathers. He is a skilled carpenter and locksmith at the museum. He takes her to feel all of the items on display that she is allowed. He saves his money to buy her very expensive books in braille (mostly Jules Verne). And he uses his fine woodworking skills to build her to scale models of the cities they live in. These models are incredibly detailed even including every last storm drain.
Eventually her father is taken by the Nazi’s and she is forced to live with her half-crazy great uncle Etienne. He also is a tender, loving man and brilliant beyond that. However after returning from WWI he often finds himself seeing ghosts and locks himself away in his room for days. I believe Marie-Laure’s description of Captain Nemo from Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea best captures her sentiment toward her great uncle, “He was a madman. And yet I didn’t want him to die.” For all of Etienne’s weaknesses and oddities, he really is a lovable character.
Etienne penned a statement that would be repeated often through this book. He wrote, “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” The simple meaning of this statement is that life is short, so take the time to see the beauty in it. It is ironic that the person who is best able to see the beauty in this world is Marie-Laure. She is completely fascinated by the world. She smells the sweetness in her caretaker’s canned peaches. She hears the pattern of her uncle’s stride and fear in the neighbor’s voice. Tastes the fluffiness of her omelet. Feels the unique character of every clam, barnacle, and snail. She actually grows up to be a scientist who identifies new types of marine life because she can feel differences that others cannot see. Beyond that, she can imagine the radio waves flowing through air and the sun’s warmth on every surface. The world seen in the mind of Marie-Laure is full of wonder, splendor, and beauty.
Seeing Marie-Laure’s amazement towards the simplest things in life reminded me to take the time to see the beauty in the world around us. I can get so caught up in “bigger” things like the current election that I forget to thank God for blessing us with our little home. I can so fill my vision with youtube clips, memes, or the newest blockbuster that I forget the pleasure of watching a newly lit candle slowly melting the wax around it. I can be so enslaved to the importance of my responsibilities when in reality the most important thing might be playing toys with my little girl.
Even during the worst times of life, the world is full of beauty. All The Light We Cannot See reminded me of that. Even in the midst of a war, the sea remains awe inspiring. Even in the busiest periods of life, a sunset is still beautiful. God’s light is shining all around us. If only I would take the time to see it.
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