Posts tagged ‘Holocaust’

Cider, Crepes and Street Dancing – “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, Published in 2014

In the Summer of 2003, my husband and I took a trip to France.  Somehow, we ended up in the beautiful, walled city of St. Malo.  It was touristy – there were a lot of fat, shirtless Frenchimages-1 men, sticky children, street vendors and sunburns.  We also got to see some very bad, but terribly amusing, street ballet.  I am really using the term “ballet” loosely here.  But the streets, the city walls, the beach, all of it is beautiful.  And I had the best mushroom crepe and bottle of cider of my life in that city – something I have tried multiple times to replicate but have failed miserably.  So this book, which opens with a scene in St. Malo, made me so happy to remember that crepe and bottle of cider that I was instantly in love with it – I guess I am just that simple really.

At the outset of WWII, Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History.  At the age of six, Marie-Laure becomes blind and finds herself having to experience her world through her hands, her feet, her sense of distance – everything is a tactile experience.  At the same time in Germany, young Werner is growing up in an orphanage with an amazing propensity to understand the interworkings of radios.  He quickly finds himself swept up by the Hilter youth and the propaganda, yet always with that feeling that something is just not quite right.   As the Germans begin to invade France, Marie-Laure and her father must flee Paris and they find themselves on the doorstep of Marie-Laure’s eccentric great-uncle in St. Malo.  Werner eventually finds himself in St. Malo as well and the two stories intertwine.

This story didn’t grab me when I read what this book was about on the back cover of the jacket.  And when I read what I wrote above it still doesn’t. But don’t let that fool you, this book is a piece of art.  Doerr is able to take the reader into the world of blindness and somehow make everything seem brighter.  He can describe Marie-Laure’s world of touch, and all her senses, in such a way that it makes the reader feel like they are missing out on too much beauty by relying on their eyes.

To really touch something, she is learning—the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop—is to love it.

On the other side of the story, Doerr has taken a very complicated situation like Nazism and the baffling question of how it swept nations in its cruelty and evil and with Werner  has shown how maybe, just maybe, when all of the circumstances are just so, it is scarily easy to get wrapped up in something.  Doerr also astutely writes about the consequences of Germany and being German, both during and after the war, in a way that I found enlightening and thoughtful but without making excuses or defending the indefensible.  It is done with gentle story-telling and simple detail, something that, in my humble opinion, makes a writer truly great.

It is inspiring that Doerr has taken one of the darkest times in modern history, and uses the characters of a blind girl and a powerless orphan soldier, perhaps the seemingly least important people, to show how bright and intricate and important our world and our lives are.  Even without a crepe and a bottle of cider or even really awful street performing, I am so happy to be reminded of that.

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.



March 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm 2 comments

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