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: Humanizing.
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 cleaver.
Marie grows up in her home with her father, losing her sight at the age of six. She is a quick learner and problem solver, show cased by how quick she is at solving puzzles her father gives her and learning to navigate the world without her sight, instead using touch and numbers.
Werner, however, grows up in an orphanage with his younger sister, destined for a life of working in the mines of his town. He and his sister find a broken radio that he repairs, showing his out of the box thinking, and when they find a radio frequency that plays the voice of a French man who talks about the wonders of science it sparks a desire in Werner to get more out of his life than the coal mines.
They have one big thing that connects them throughout the story and 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 being the Frenchmen that Werner and his sister listen to. The Frenchmen is Marie’s Grandfather and her Great-Uncle is the one who played the recording that Werner would listen to. This connection is so big and yet so very small at the same time. It’s pivotal and accidental.
Here is how this book changed how I think: we read from both sides of the war.
This war in which it is easy to say one side was good and the other bad. Who was right and who 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 or where they come from.
The more I thought about this the more I found it silly, because fighting for your country doesn’t make you good or bad, patriotic maybe. It’s important to remember that sometimes fighting for a country is mandatory in war, not a choice.
This book really changed my perspective when I realized that members of my own family fought on opposing sides. My great-grandfather on my dad’s side was an American Air Force polite and my great-grandfather on my mom’s side was a man from Czechoslovakia who was forced to work in the German Navy. It is something extraordinary to think about to me, these two men in my family history probably never met and had to very different experiences during the war, but their connection to each other is through me and my brother, generations away. I never thought about my family history like this until reading this book.
Truly I don’t think anyone can read this book and not have their perspective changed in some way. I would say add it to your wish list, check it out from the library, or just go to Barns and Noble and buy it. It’s worth it.