300 reviews

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

Published: 2021T
Paperback : 0 pages
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Zero?7 August 1944
At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country. ... 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 [email protected] (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

Member Reviews

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by Madison V. (see profile) 03/13/23

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by Karen C. (see profile) 04/24/22

by Heather W. (see profile) 02/08/22

by Claire B. (see profile) 02/02/22

Listened on audio, was hard to follow with the two perspectives sometimes. Enjoyed it though

by Becky D. (see profile) 01/26/22

by Liana H. (see profile) 12/07/21

by Whitney B. (see profile) 11/07/21

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