All the Light We Cannot See
Sometimes a novel doesn’t merely transport. It immerses, engulfs, keeps you caught within its words until the very end, when you blink and remember there’s a world beyond the pages. All the Light We Cannot See was such a book for me.
Marie-Laure has been blind since childhood. She’s learned Paris through her fingertips, with a miniature model of the 5th arrondissement made by her father, a master locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History. She’s fascinated by mollusks and snails, by Jules Verne, by faraway places she can only imagine. But then war comes and, with it, an enemy she can’t see. In the face of the Nazi occupation, Marie-Laure and her father flee to her reclusive great-uncle’s house, perched above the sea along the Brittany coast. With them they bring what might be the museum’s most valuable and infamous diamond.
Across Europe, an orphan named Werner grows up in a German coal-mining town, devouring discarded books on mechanics and salvaging scraps to make a radio, one that picks up forbidden broadcasts from outside the Reich. His quick hands earn him a place at an elite Hitler Youth school, where he’s taught both technology and ideology. Werner is precocious and willing, soon in the army rooting out resistance radio operators from Russia to France. On his way to Brittany, he begins to understand the cost of his skill.
The novel—written in prose that begs to be savored and reread—is Marie-Laure’s eyes, Werner’s antenna. It’s France caught fragile in the war, yet holding on resiliently. It’s vibrant, poignant, delicately exquisite. Despite the careful building of time and place (so vivid you fall between the pages), it’s not a story of history; it’s a story of people living history.