In this bestselling novel set at the collision of France and Germany during World War II, we meet Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living with her loving father in Paris, and Werner Pfennig, a technically savvy orphan with a talent for fixing radios. Marie-Laure spends her days in the Museum of Natural History, home of a mysterious diamond and where her father serves as a locksmith. Werner’s skills land him at a Hitler Youth academy, known for it’s brutal training.
I’m a bit torn about this book and my opinion on it. The craft of the writing was delectable, and his descriptions of the cities and sounds from the POV of the blind girl were impressive, to say the least. The research was top-notch, and the emotions it evoked stayed with me and I was always irritated when I had to stop reading it, it pulled me in so.
But there’s something missing and I have a hard time putting my finger on it. We are following these two children through the rise of Nazi Germany and the invasion of France, and there are multiple characters that are given a POV throughout the story. This was a bit confusing when it first happened, but flowed well throughout the rest of the narrative. However, it feels like the story was going toward this crescendo, all these characters playing their parts surrounding this mysterious diamond, coming together slowly over time, but then…
There’s an event that we get flashes of from the very beginning: the bombing of Saint-Malo, France. This is the endpoint the author is taking us to, or so I thought. And when we do get there it is powerful, and I enjoyed the emotionally difficult road that took me there. But then I almost wish it had stopped, with the promise of an uncertain future and an unknowable fate for Marie-Laure and Werner. But it doesn’t. It keeps going to meet up with the secondary characters that were certainly integral in the plot, continuing to follow the same journey, unbeknownst to them.
I just don’t think I understood the point of the continuation. Was it for closure? To find out what happens to the intelligent blind girl Marie-Laure? To revisit the secondary characters I found so fascinating? But to me, the most interesting part of the story was Marie-Laure and the circumstances surrounding Werner’s rise in the Hitler youth, watching these two children that are caught up in the machine of “progress”. I was bearing witness to those daring to fight against the rise of a tyrannical dictator, in addition to those who got swept up under the guise of patriotic duty (whether involuntarily or with great abandon).
Saying this, I’m sure if it had stopped right then in the battle-strewn streets of Saint-Malo, I would have said “BUT THEN WHAT HAPPENS.” So, take that for what it’s worth. Overall I did love reading this book, and it kept me solidly enthralled with every turn of the page. I am a sucker for stories daring to humanize those we want to paint with a broad stroke of ENEMY versus ALLY. I love books that live in the gray area between “what is right” and “what is wrong,” and the many conflicts that arise from this juxtaposition. I still highly recommend it, for those interested in such a read.
You can download a sample or purchase All the Light We Cannot See by clicking here.