Sunday, February 07, 2016
"All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr - A Magnificently Told Story That Richly Deserved Its Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize jury certainly got it right when they awarded the coveted prize to Anthony Doerr's magnificent novel. Set primarily during WWII and the years leading up to it, the narrative weaves together the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl living in France with the saga of Werner, a frail engineering prodigy in Germany. Their paths cross briefly during the final days of the siege of Saint-Malo in Brittany as the American forces bomb the occupying Germans into oblivion.
Author Doerr is a masterful story teller and magnificent wielder of metaphor. The surface narrative deals with electrons, snail and whelk shells, birds on the wing, museum as mausoleum, a rare diamond, blindness, and light - always light or its profound absence. These plot elements propel the surface stories forward, but they also serve to suggest metaphysical questions: "Are we like electrons, destined to follow a pre-determined path, or can we choose to veer into other orbits? What shells do we secrete to protect ourselves? What subtle flaws and fault lines lie beneath the surface facets of our lives? Are the shelves and storage bins of our memories museums or mausoleums?" Like the acclaimed play, "Copenhagen," this book asks the question of how a brilliant scientist may choose to use or withhold his esoteric knowledge in the service of his nation when the use of that knowledge may lead to death and destruction.
Werner, the German wunderkind, learns to follow the flow of electrons and thereby masters electricity and electronics at an early age. The Third Reich recognizes his genius and tries to turn him into a robotic weapon, searching out Resistance radio broadcasts across the Eastern and Western fronts. He reaches a point of moral crossroads as he is ordered to discover a transmitter high in the chimneys of Saint-Malo. Memories of childhood short wave broadcasts that he would listen to with his young sister help him to make a difficult choice. That choice involves him briefly - and forever - in the life of Marie-Laure.
As Mr. Doerr weaves together characters and places that are indelibly limned through his descriptions of their textures, smells, tastes, soundscapes, he opens windows into the kinds of individual suffering that spared few people during WWII, whether their political leaders were aligned with the Axis or the Allies. War as hell is depicted with unblinking detail. Each character, whether prominent or minor, suffers some form of deep loss during the war and its lingering aftermath.
"All The Light We Cannot See" is a book that is eye-opening, heart-rending and soul-searing, and is a MUST READ.