All The Light We Cannot See has been called ‘sublime’, ‘magnificent’ and ‘bittersweet’. A tale that follows a deeply harrowing and beautiful story that centres around a young blind girl, Marie-Laure and Werner, a German orphan, thrust into a dark world, full of death and pain.
The two of them navigate through their worlds, proving how a young boy, forced into the Hitler Youth, having had no other option, can in the end, reject the propaganda and in his last moments, save someone, who had been, all along, actually saving him. Proving how it is possible to see light, to see stories and great adventures, without having the power of sight.
Proving that in a world that is so bleak and corrupt, there is a light, some will overcome the darkness and some will not, but in the end, the truly kindhearted will be able to refuse the temptations of power and hostility, of myth and legend, and instead, save someone who needs it, to remember the boy who refused to do as his commander says and to find the girl who reads stories to him at night, the last connection to his hazy past.
The novel focuses on two unsuspecting, young people. A girl who lives in France and a boy who is expected to join Hitler’s Youth and fight for what the Nazis believe is the new order. He himself, is not so sure. He witnesses things he cannot let go of, haunted by the crimes his own comrades have committed and the horrible acts he has done nothing to stop, out of fear. It is difficult to remember, but Werner is just a child, forced into an unknowing world, that expects too much of him and renders him helpless. He has no choice but the follow the tide, until he meets his friend, Frederick, who opens his eyes. For up until this point, he has been blind, while seeing.
He has joined the war, despite knowing what he is doing is wrong, but also knowing that to refuse would be to die. He is not proud of his actions and chooses to save a young girl, chooses to allow the French Resistance messages on the radio to continue. He chooses to allow freedom. And in his freedom, he turns his back on life, preferring to embrace the warmth of death. Of something he had feared.
Marie-Laure chooses to act in whichever way she can. Her powers might appear to be limited to an outsider’s perspective, but it is her perseverance and thirst for knowledge and goodness, that keeps her alive. Doerr proves that the mind of a child, is far more resilient that we give them credit.
The novel draws upon the strength of resistance.
For example, in Frederick, who refuses to pour ice cold water on a prisoner, who stands as “the night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head” and will not subject the prisoner to more pain. Throughout it all, throughout the bullies and the torture he endures, he stays resilient. Marie-Laure loses her eyesight, but sees the world for what it is and what it could be. Werner has his choices twisted and stripped, who in the end, follows the stories told by a Frenchman and a young girl, to decide what he wants.
Marie-Laure decides to “open [her] eyes and see what [she] can with them before they close forever.” And then she sees without them. Werner decides to “be alive before [he] dies.” And together, they prove how the brain, “which lives without a spark of light” builds a “world full of light” and that is by playing a part in the resistance.
The atrocities committed during World War Two, by both the Allies and Axis, are told in this book; harrowing images of war and bombs, cities turned to dust and rubble, women abused and subjected to the cruelty of soldiers, young men sent to war in place of politicians who sat in their ivory towers, the torture of Jewish people, of the civilians on both sides of the war, of the innocent, of those who did not agree with the rule of the Nazis and were blamed for things that were not their doing (namely, seen through Jutta).
And in the current time we are in, it is important to remember that though a tyrant is in power, not everyone agrees with him.
It is important to remember there is light when all is shrouded in darkness.