All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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

After finally getting over my book slump, I decided to read a highly-rated book, All the Light We Cannot See.

I wished I picked better. You see, it took me a month to finish this. When I started, I was three books ahead of schedule in my reading challenge; and now, I am just on track. I don't know if it was just because I am still recovering from my book slump that my brain couldn't handle multiple plot lines or if it didn't work for me.

Its greatest fault is in the way the story is told. Alternating between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, not to mention the alternating time frames, makes for a very disorienting read. Picture this: I am invested in the character, I am finally able to see the working of their minds, the emotions they are feeling. The tension builds, the plot thickens.. and you rip me off to another equally interesting character?? I was like a child, kicking and screaming while being dragged away into something that I would like sooner than later. Then, you'll do it again!! How was I supposed to enjoy that?

Therein lies the strength of this book: its characters and its lovely, lovely writing. I could bask in this author’s words all day - if only I wasn’t upset in the process.

They say that Marie-Laure's character was better that Werner's, I disagree. While Marie is smart, she is sheltered and simple-minded. Even participating in the resistance's activities, the story focused more on her thoughts about mollusks, her father (who was imprisoned), Jules Verne, her father, the sea, her father. Blind since the age of six, her father made miniatures models of their villages to help Marie navigate its streets alone. This is where my admiration ends. I understand that in her life, she only has her father. But we are in the middle of a war, more importantly, a siege! The dangers were not only glazed over but all I hear are the luxuries that were stolen. The secret broadcasts all over France were not made to be risky, there was no feeling of fear of the German army, no inkling if they knew they were broadcasting these news or if the Germans were closing in. With Marie-Laure, there's just this hint of fear. Nothing extraordinary. In her words,

“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

Werner, on the other hand, I'm more interested in. The complexity of his situation engrossed me. So did the people around him: Jutta, Frederick and Volkheimer - each with their own difficulties in life. I find it heartbreaking when every one of them had a not-so-good conclusion when the only options they have are to die or to serve the Führer. Picked from the Childrens’ House by a lance corporal, Werner’s life is turned upside-down when he is admitted to an elite Nazi military school, the very people Jutta disliked. Having a knack for radios made Werner take special lessons with Dr. Hauptmann that made him somewhat special. His story details the experiences he’s gone through this school, from meeting Frederick, a sensitive boy with a fervent love for birds, him questioning everything if this was the right thing to do, to being at the front lines. It was ironic because it was Frederick who knows that their live no longer belong to them but he was the one who kept on showing his humanity and principles while Werner, who still clings to his dreams of doing what he really wants, unquestioningly follows every command.


”Frederick said we don’t have choices, don’t own our lives, but in the end it was Werner who pretended there were no choices,”

It was startling to see that the characters are very self-aware that they echo what I’ve been thinking.

The alternating POVs were so distressing that whenever I arrive to a new perspective, I would put the book down so I could get rid of all the emotions that have been brewing and I can start anew with another life. That’s why it took me a month to finish this.

When everyone’s lives finally met (around the 75% mark), it was so short and unsatisfying that I let out a sigh. This was not the end the build-up promised. Fortunately, the following chapters followed a single POV and a timeline that I enjoyed it already. The succeeding events are still lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. This is how it’s supposed be! Lovely writing such as this shouldn't be made to end abruptly, rather, they should flow continuously. If only that were the case, this would be such a beautiful book.