This will be a spoiler review and discussion about All The Light We Cannot See. If you want to stay spoiler-free you can read my spoiler-free review here.
This book in one word: Connecting.
I don’t think anyone can read this book and not have the way they think about the world and other people changed to some degree. It is a book that is beautifully written and deeply engaging. It’s a heavy read.
This is the story of two teens during World War II; Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfennig, a German boy. They are from very different back grounds, but both are incredibly clever.
Marie grows up in her home with her father. Losing her sight at the age of six, she learns to navigate the world using her other senses. Werner, however, grows up in an orphanage with his younger sister listening a radio program by a Frenchman who talks about the wonders of science and it sparks a desire in Werner to get more out of his life than working in a coal mine.
As I neared the end of the book I began to wonder if their stories would ever directly cross, or if they would forever skirt the edges of each others lives. The connection is made though the radio program that Werner and his sister listen to: the Frenchmen is Marie’s grandfather. This connection is so big and yet so very small at the same time. It’s pivotal and accidental.
This book changed how I think: we read from both sides of the war.
WWII is told as one side was good and the other bad. One was right and one was wrong. We generalize and then don’t think about it again. We don’t think about the individuals, civilians and soldiers alike, we just see who they fought for and where they come from. We don’t think about the individuality of war.
This book really changed my perspective when I realized that members of my own family fought on opposing sides. Both of my great-grandfathers fought in WWII, one was an enlisted American Army pilot and the other a German navel officer, a Czechoslovakian who was forced to serve while his wife and children were held in an internment camp.
It is extraordinary to me that these two men in my family never met and had very different experiences during the war; but they are connected to each other through me and my brother, generations away. I never thought about my family history like this until reading this book, how this connection can be so big and yet so very small.
I would love to know, after you read the book, if it changes your perspective too. Add it to your wish list, check it out from the library, or just go to Barnes and Noble and buy it. It’s worth it.