All the Light There Was
Maral Pegorian, 14, lives with her immigrant family in the tight-knit Parisian Armenian community when the Nazis march into the city in 1940. The pretty girl’s life has been somewhat idyllic up to that point, despite her parents both being nearly the sole survivors of their respective families in the Armenian genocide. Parisian Armenians live in mixed neighborhoods, often next door to Jewish families, and the young men of the community, including Maral’s brother, are active in the Resistance throughout the war.
The heart of the story is Maral’s love for Zaven; her loyalty to him through the months he’s in hiding; and then her marriage quandaries after the war. The last fifth of the novel becomes complex and bittersweet.
All the Light There Was offers a vivid picture of life for a minority family in occupied Paris, and author Kricorian effortlessly takes the reader from one year to the next. Kricorian doesn’t reveal too much of Maral’s thinking through her problems; Maral simply makes her increasingly difficult choices. By the book’s end, Maral is faced with a nearly impossible decision; she cannot avoid hurting people. She must look to her conscience along with her family’s values. Part of the story is about how those values, which support individuals and communities in troubled times, can also trap a person.
I’m surprised that this novel isn’t listed as a young adult novel, since it’s completely from Maral’s point of view and is written in a straightforward reportage style. Either way—adult or young adult—it’s a story that was a pleasure to read.