Book club has been going very well this past week, however, I am sad to say that it is coming to an end. This is the one of the last projects that we are all doing together. We are all writing reviews of All the Light We Cannot See to summarize our thoughts on the book before moving on to our final project together. If you want to check out some other blogs that have reviews of All the Light We Cannot See look at the blogs of Sydney, Kaliegh, Vanessa, and Racheal. If you plan on reading the book in the future and do not want to spoil it for yourself, then reading my blog or the blogs of others may not be the best idea, however, here are some reviews with less spoilers if you are considering reading the book.
In this review, I will be looking at all components of the book including plot, character, setting/mood, symbolism, style/voice, and theme to come to a conclusion at the end where I will rate the book on a five-star scale. This post is similar to my first, however, I have a lot more insight on the book now and can draw better conclusions than I could have in my First Impressions blog. I hope that you find this review helpful, if you have any questions about my opinions on the book, comment below!
The plot of the book was very simple but told in great detail. I liked that the action was spread out over the course of many years, it made the story feel like it could have been real. I think that though the story does romanticize war, it does try to show how people on all sides of the war are capable of good and evil. I liked that the story did not just involve the French and German but also the Russian to show that everyone was right and wrong at the same time. The examples used in the story to illustrate theme were used sparingly but powerfully. Werner’s point of view was pretty dark as it followed him going to a Nazi school where his strong sense of morality was broken down and built back up again. He then was forced into the war to track down terrorist broadcasts. Werner is always with other people in his plot, but is very independent from them. He forgets to write his sister. Soon Werner finds out about Marie-Laure through the radio broadcasts she sends and one day he follows her through Saint Malo. The radio broadcasts she sends after the bombing of Saint Malo motivate Volkehmier and Werner to escape from under the rubble and fight to live. Though the meeting between Werner and Marie-Laure is brief it has a big impact on the both of them. Werner dies close to the end of the book by a landmine which was laid out by German soldiers. His death was foreshadowed earlier in the book and it showed that war kills not the enemy, but a fellow human. I liked that Werner’s death had a reason behind it in the book, but it made the end of the book much darker. Soon the plot follows Jutta who is raped by Russian soldiers when they occupy Berlin. She later gets notice that Werner is dead and years later she is given his belongings. Werner’s belongings lead her to find Marie-Laure and they talk, it is a very profound moment in the book where two plots come together again. In Marie-Laure’s plot is more relatable for me and I like that she continues to live life as normally as she can leading up to the war. Marie-Laure flees Paris with her father and ends up in Saint Malo with her uncle Etienne and Madam Manec. Here Marie-Laure learns the wonders of the world around her when she walks the town, goes to the beach, or has imaginary adventures with her uncle. However, throughout her plot, we see her become more independent as she helps in the resistance movement broadcasting information and as the people around her leave. Her father is arrested never to be seen again but for the few letters her writes. Madam Manec dies. Etienne is also arrested but later reunited with Marie-Laure after the siege is over. Soon Marie-Laure finds herself all alone during the war with Von Rumple looking through the house for the Sea of Flames. Werner shots Von Rumple and saves Marie-Laure. They share the last can of peaches madam Manec ever made and talked about their lives. Werner suggested that he hadn’t lived his own life for a long time up until that day. He Admired that Marie-Laure lived life as regularly as she could. Later on Marie-Laure returns to Paris with Etienne in her old home and decides to go to school and soon she works at the museum. She meets with Jutta and finds the key to the grotto where she hid the sea of flames in Werner’s belongings. She hints that she knows it is still where she left it. The book than fast forwards all the way to 2014 the year of its publishing and shows Marie-Laure talking to her grandson imagining all the worlds with in worlds around them as he plays a video game. The plot overall is very poetic, delicate, and intricate. I have deep appreciation for the execution of this book and its success of telling such a brilliantly simple story with such great detail and wonder.
The characters in this book were all very well developed and had a humanity that made them seem very real. The changes of the characters were as subtle as could be, yet all of these small changes added up and it is only now reflecting back on the novel as a whole that I can appreciate the development of the characters. I liked that the book showed characters from all ages, genders, and genders on different sides of the war. Even when describing the Russian soldier who raped Jutta, he is described as he had been mourning for his friends who were fallen soldiers. Doerr was not afraid to show the darkness with in his characters, and I liked that. Werner seems to struggle throughout the book with his morals and the morals imposed on him by the army and by the Nazi school. He seems to have an internal struggle with this throughout the novel and cycles between his own morals and the morals of others. Werner becomes a much smarter character but with new knowledge he seems to loose more of his curiosity and child-like wonder. He becomes a lot more hardened through out the book, but when he is with Marie-Laure and even with Volkehmier in the rubble, he begins to open up. In the scene where Werner is near the ocean, we see he and Marie-Laure both have a fascination with the ocean showing his child-like side again. I found it hard to relate on a personal level with the character as we did not have a lot in common, but it was easy to see his perspective on life through his actions and dialogue. Marie-Laure starts as a very innocent young girl, and though she begins to learn more and faces unthinkable hardships, she continues to have that innocent young girl inside of her. Though Marie-Laure becomes much more mature, wise and self-aware through the book, she stays true to herself and continues to be curious about the world around her. I personally related to Marie-Laure’s better because we both seem to be interested by everything. In the scene where Marie-Laure and Werner talk, it is easy to see that they are both still children at heart. Though the character changes happen slowly and subtly, I now appreciate it looking back at how much the characters have truly changed.
The setting for this book change very often but there were three main time periods, pre-war, war, and post-war. This setting made for a lot of anticipation continuously. The settings were always described very well. The setting was very important to the plot, theme, symbolism, and character. I think that the setting obviously motivates the plot a lot of the time because it is a historical fiction book at a time of war. The setting helped move plot as when the settings changed, the mood of the book did too, changing the characters ever so slightly. For example, when Werner first went to Nazi school, he became more hardened moving the character and plot development forward. All of the different settings showed that people who are different in nationality, gender, culture, class, or whatever else are actually similar as we all have a humanity that unites us. Showing such a wide variety of characters from such different places really emphasized that theme. The mood varied greatly throughout the plot and from character. I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, but I did enjoy this book a lot and I think I enjoy it partially because of the setting, not in spite of it.
The symbolism in this book was less explicit than I am used to, but I enjoyed that I had to think twice about it. Radios and music, especially ‘Clair de Lune,’ are both symbols of hope in this. An example of this is when Werner and Jutta first listen to the radio as a children and think about a world beyond their own where everything will be okay. Another example was when Werner and Volkehmier listen to the radio underneath the rubble they are buried in, the music from the radio gives them hope and the attempt to and succeed in escaping from underneath the building. Shells, Jules Vern adventure novels, and locks with keys represent the theme of worlds with in worlds. This is shown by the way Marie-Laure lines up shells on her windowsill at home in Paris and in Saint Malo in both of her ‘worlds’. The lock and key represents the pathway to other worlds, for example, in the very beginning when the safe to the Sea of Flames is described in the novel. The Sea of Flames is the last symbol that I discerned from the book and it represents that all that is beautiful may not be good and all that is good may not be beautiful. The diamond has a ‘curse’ on it and it shows the dark sides of the characters as well as the good once they let go of the diamond. This is especially clear in Von Rumple who through his search of the diamond becomes very ill. I liked that throughout the book the symbols stayed the same but had different meanings at different points in the novel; the true importance of the symbols emphasized further into the novel. I liked that I had to look harder for the symbols, it made me appreciate them a lot more.
The style and voice in this novel was my favourite part. It was easy to read because the chapters were so short. I liked that the perspective switched between characters, it helped emphasize the theme that people who are different are actually similar. I liked that the story followed not just Marie-Laure and Werner, but also Daniel LeBlanc, Etienne LeBlanc, Madame Manec, Jutta Pfennig, Frau Elena, Frank Volkheimer, Frederick, Dr. Hauptmann, Reinhold von Rumpel, and Madame Ruelle. The voice changed character to character which made for a diverse pool of characters. The writing was very descriptive but used simple words which made for a very interesting combination. The dialogue was used sparingly, but it was used well. Doerr really showed character traits through action and used dialogue to more explicitly state character motivation. The pacing of the book made it feel very realistic.
All the Light we Cannot See explores the tragedies of war, the idea of worlds with in worlds, free will versus predetermination, moral relativism, and the significance of seemingly insignificant actions. I like how well all of these themes were woven together throughout the book. I thought that the themes were introduced subtly and slowly culminating in the end in scenes that more explicitly explored the themes of the book. I really liked the meeting between Werner and Marie-Laure because the characters talked more explicitly about the themes of moral relativism, free will versus predetermination, and hinted towards the theme of significance of insignificant actions. Werner and Marie-Laure talked about their lives and philosophies while sharing a can of peaches. I think that the tragedies of war was shown very obviously in Jutta’s perspective when she is forced to work from a young age and is raped at a young age because of the war. The idea of worlds within worlds is beautifully showcased through the diamond which is hidden in the city model in Etienne’s house by the small house with in the large house. The whole book is a series of small insignificant events that soon lead to significant changes and I really liked that this theme was gradually shown throughout the book. The themes were incorporated into the book very well and some of the themes are very unique to this book. Many historical fiction novels have similar themes, but All the Light We Cannot See is ingenious in the way the themes are so easily applicable to this day and age.
Considering all of the parts of the book I would give All the Light We Cannot See a 4.5/5 stars because though I really enjoyed the characters, theme, symbolism, and especially the style of the book I sometimes found the plot to be a little slow and even dark towards the end. I also thought that the book did romanticize war but I liked that the writing style was still very realistic in its description and mostly in its pacing. I think that this is a great read for anyone who likes poetic writing, thinking deeply about the meaning behind the book, and historical fiction. I don’t usually like historical fiction, but the setting really adds to the themes, plot, characters, style, and symbolism in this book. It’s a good book to read by the fire in winter as it is a heavier read. Over all I really enjoyed this book and I am very happy that I had the opportunity to read and study All the Light We Cannot See as a part of our book club. I hope that you found this review helpful and that you consider reading All the Light We Cannot See in the future as it is a true delight.