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No.
85


 
Beautiful,
Insightful,
Dramatic

295 reviews

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
by Anthony Doerr

Published: 2014
Hardcover : 531 pages
210 members reading this now
868 clubs reading this now
210 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 280 of 295 members
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of ...
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Introduction

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Does the world need yet another novel about WWII? It does when the novel is as inventive and beautiful as this one by Anthony Doerr. In fact, All the Light We Cannot See--while set mostly in Germany and France before and during the war--is not really a “war novel”. Yes, there is fear and fighting and disappearance and death, but the author’s focus is on the interior lives of his two characters. Marie Laure is a blind 14-year-old French girl who flees to the countryside when her father disappears from Nazi-occupied Paris. Werner is a gadget-obsessed German orphan whose skills admit him to a brutal branch of Hitler Youth. Never mind that their paths don’t cross until very late in the novel, this is not a book you read for plot (although there is a wonderful, mysterious subplot about a stolen gem). This is a book you read for the beauty of Doerr’s writing-- “Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…”--and for the way he understands and cherishes the magical obsessions of childhood. Marie Laure and Werner are never quaint or twee. Instead they are powerful examples of the way average people in trying times must decide daily between morality and survival. --Sara Nelson

Excerpt

Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a tall and freckled six-year-old in Paris with rapidly deteriorating eyesight when her father sends her on a children’s tour of the museum where he works. The guide is a hunchbacked old warder hardly taller than a child himself. He raps the tip of his cane against the floor for attention, then leads his dozen charges across the gardens to the galleries. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?

2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?

3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?

4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?

6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?

7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?

8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?

9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?

10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?

12. When Werner and Marie-Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?

13. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Can you relate to this? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?

14. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

15. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?

Enhance Your Book Club

To learn more about the Battle of Normandy, find maps, timelines, photographs, and recommendations for films and books on the subject. Visit www.dday-overlord.com/eng/index.htm.

Take another look at Werner's redacted letter to Jutta on page 283. There’s so much blacked out that it’s hard to take any meaning from his message. What do you imagine he might have been writing about? Try to fill in the blanks with your best guess.

Radio was such an important part of Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s stories, and WWII in general. Visit the BBC archive collections at www.bbc.co.uk/archive/collections.shtml to listen to clips of Nazi propaganda, news reports, and personal accounts of World War II.

Have you ever read any Jules Verne? Pick up a copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (or view the 1954 film adaptation) and talk about why you think Anthony Doerr decided to make Verne’s fiction such a big part of his own.

From the publisher

Suggested by Members

Why do you think the author used the word light in the title when the subject was at times very dark?
by ksteeby (see profile) 02/27/17

How is it viewing much of the book through a blind person?
by cathy@scaggs.net (see profile) 04/19/16

Do you believe that the Sea of Flames protected Marie-Laure?
Discuss the significance of Werner and Frederick's relationship. How do you think this relates to the owl that visits Frederick? Hint: Werner means
by mdterp88 (see profile) 03/12/16

Did Werner regret escaping the fate of the coal miner?
by Barbfrost (see profile) 03/11/16

Brooklyn Public Library
by albux (see profile) 02/27/16

Is this book really worthy of a Pulitzer Prize?
by ebach (see profile) 11/18/15

synesthesia; growing up in an orphanage
how blind people are able to develop their other senses more highly to compensate & "see" differently
being a child during WWII, especially in Europe;
by Livres4moi (see profile) 10/22/15

Discuss Werner's relationship to Frederick
by nanovsky (see profile) 09/17/15

References to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Romeo and Juliet
Humanity in the midst of war
by MarilynBrowning (see profile) 07/23/15

look online for the author's interview where he describes the idea of the book
by youngsuz (see profile) 07/17/15

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"Boy meets girl in Anthony Doerr's hauntingly beautiful new book, but the circumstances are as elegantly circuitous as they can be…surprisingly fresh and enveloping…What's unexpected about its impact is that the novel does not regard Europeans' wartime experience in a new way. Instead, Mr. Doerr's nuanced approach concentrates on the choices his characters make and on the souls that have been lost, both living and dead."--The New York Times - Janet Maslin

“History intertwines with irresistible fiction—secret radio broadcasts, a cursed diamond, a soldier’s deepest doubts—into a richly compelling, bittersweet package. After you wipe away those stray tears, you’ll be casting the movie in your head; this carefully crafted novel fairly begs for a lush Hollywood conversion.” --People (3 1/2 stars) - Mary Pols

Book Club Recommendations

Offer some visuals
by bookbunny28 (see profile) 04/26/17
Since St. Malo is probably not a well-known area, I suggest providing a map and a few photos of the city now and as it looked as a result of the bombing. Eighty-percent of the city was destroyed by bombing in 1944. Also, if the group is small enough, show the 4 min author introduction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYBK3Lsx7aI
Relate to other events in history
by Linda Smith (see profile) 03/10/17
We were able to relate this story to other events around the world that created dark times for teens. Their courage was remarkable - inspiring to us.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by stefanienitze@gmail.com (see profile) 04/28/17

 
  "All the Light We Cannot See"by bookbunny28 (see profile) 04/26/17

A thought-provoking novel set primarily in WWII France. The characters are well formed and the story is rich with detail.

 
by bdeherreraschnering (see profile) 04/10/17

 
by carmi.mooser@airwood.ca (see profile) 04/07/17

 
by susan.allen@live.ca (see profile) 04/06/17

 
by slstrobach (see profile) 03/28/17

 
by hlarson (see profile) 03/15/17

 
  "All the Light We Cannot see"by Linda Smith (see profile) 03/10/17

The story is told in a series of events that evolve around the two teens in this book. I found their stories deeply moving and beautifully written.

 
  "Written like poetry"by annedcahill@gmail.com (see profile) 03/10/17

The scenes are described in such detail that the reader remains present with the characters in every moment.

 
  "All the light we cannot see"by sories1246 (see profile) 03/06/17

This book shows the courage of a girl who cannot see things with her eyes, but can see them with her heart. She was so brave and he was too. They lived in a very diffficult time like World War II.

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