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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction novel centered around two teenagers during World War II in Europe. It details the journeys of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, who have drastically different yet similar experiences in war-torn countries, whose paths intertwine through secret radios and a mythical stone. As the book’s name suggests, the author’s goal is to show how people go out of their way to be kind to others despite challenging circumstances.

Marie-Laure, one of the primary protagonists, is blind and lives in Paris with her father, Daniel LeBlanc. He is a loving character, guiding his daughter around their hometown and on their journey after being forced to flee. He is a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History, where the Sea of Flames, a spectacular diamond with an equally enthralling legend, resides. Marie-Laure’s great-uncle Etienne, who takes in her and her father, lives in a house near the coast of Saint Malo. Madame Manec, Etienne’s housekeeper, is a courageous woman who stands up for her beliefs, causing Marie-Laure to slowly do the same.

Werner lives in an orphanage in a mining city in Germany with his younger sister Jutta, who serves as his point of clarity and reason when he sinks further into war with her strong opinions and fearless thoughts. He spent his bleak childhood tinkering with machines - like radios - and exploring math and science, eventually leading up to his role during WWII. Deeper into the war, Werner meets Fredrick, whose unique personality makes him stand out when staying inconspicuous is best, and Frank Volkheimer, who appears formidable at first, but gradually cares for Werner like an older brother.

Reinhold von Rumpel is another major character in the story. He is a sergeant major in the German army, examining and verifying precious treasures. As a result of his cancer, he wants to gain the Sea of Flames to become immortal. Throughout the book, he travels around Europe in pursuit of this mysterious diamond, representing Nazi greed and selfishness. However, he is not irredeemable, as he cares greatly for his children, and he suffers from health issues, making von Rumpel an emotionally complex character like many of the characters in the book.

Doerr portrays the harsh circumstances through sophisticated vocabulary, creating a vivid picture for the reader. However, the author may have overused descriptions, as the book seems to drag, causing readers to skip sections and possibly miss something important. The verbose language is not real enough, causing a gap between the reader and the story.

The book also skips in time, where one section will be during the war and suddenly will transition to before the war. This can be confusing at times, which is one of the reasons why this book is better suited for audiences in high school. And even though the author’s goal was to “[illuminate] the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another”, it does not seem to appear much. It is only shown near the ending, which I found a bit abrupt and didn’t make much sense. The book failed to captivate me, as I was unable to feel for the characters even during major problems.

However, the story is well written, and depicts the difficult circumstances during World War II on both sides. The author also touches on the fragile topics of greed, love, and perseverance. Overall, it was a compelling read, albeit slightly boring, and I would suggest it to readers interested in the war and who enjoy descriptive writing styles.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Scribner Book Company, 2017. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!

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