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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Historical fiction

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr
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Quick take

The only novel about World War II you need (besides The Flight Portfolio) ;)

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Inspirational


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed


From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

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Why I love it

In times of great hardship, it is easy to become cynical and despair. This makes it all the more remarkable when people in these circumstances nonetheless choose courageously to practice kindness and care in acts small and large. Anthony Doerr’s opus, All the Light We Cannot See, is a book filled to the brim with such acts. A moving hymn to defiant human spirit.

The novel flits between the perspective of two young people muddling through the violence and confusion of WWII and life under occupation. Marie-Laure, a young blind French girl, has just fled Paris with her father to hide away with her uncle who lives by the sea. There she becomes fascinated by mollusks and studies them zealously each day. Across the border, Werner a German orphan develops a knack for repairing radios and interpreting their frequencies. These skills eventually get him enlisted in resistance efforts. We watch throughout as these two young people who have bottomed out or nearly so families rather than retreat into their shells like Marie-Laure’s beloved mollusks, instead, again and again, confront darkness with light.

Anthony Doerr is a special writer and in All the Light We Cannot See he is at the height of his powers. Each sentence sings, imbued with great moral and emotional resonance. And he confronts the most potent questions of why we are put on this earth and how we fight our face our biggest obstacles together without betraying the angels of our better nature. What more can we ask for from a great book?

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