Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Club Winner: All the Light We Cannot See

One of the advantages of being in a book club is the chance to read books I might not otherwise have considered.  Our group is not as structured as others in existence.  I love to quiz readers about how they organize, how often they meet, what they do when they gather, but most of all, how they select a book to read together.  While there are books on which I refuse to waste my time (and there's no need to name names here!), I am open-minded, especially when offered the chance to talk about a book afterwards. 

Over the years we've been a group, we've read novels, short stories, and nonfiction.  We find that we particularly enjoy historical fiction.  When some of our favorite authors publish, we are certain to select that for at least one of the next month's selections.  We don't plan more than a month in advance-- I can't even imagine setting a reading schedule for six months or a year at a time--and we often select more that one book.

Our most reason book under discussion was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, set alternately between Germany and France during WWII. Having taught the Holocaust course on my campus, I've read many books from this period, both fiction and nonfiction.  I don't deliberately set out to read "another Holocaust book," but the stories are fascinating and the possibilities are endless.  

This novel moves between two main characters, Marie-Laure, a French girl, blind since she was six, raised by her father, who is responsible for the keys at a Paris museum.  The German boy Werner, orphaned when his father was killed in the mines, has been raised with his sister in an orphanage, where he discovers an aptitude for working with radios. 

Marie-Laure and her father are forced to evacuate Paris when the Germans arrive, and find themselves seeking refuge in Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast with her father's brother and the maid.  The father, who has always constructed little puzzle boxes for her, carves a miniature set of the town for her fingers before he is called back to Paris, arrested on the way.

Werner, meanwhile, is admitted into an exclusive school, where he witnesses great cruelty before he is drafted into the German army at sixteen. His responsibility for tracing secret radio broadcasts by citizens of Allied countries, bring his path and Marie-Laure's together.

Doerr's depicts some of the most ruthless, self-seeking individuals, the often-unnoticed people who show great bravery through small acts of subversion, and those like Werner who must wrestle with  conscience while seeking self-preservation.  His lovely detail set me down in the rooms with his characters, hearing the scratchy recordings being broadcast, seeing the rubble, and feeling the tiny puzzle box house under Marie-Laure's fingers.


1 comment:

Linda H. said...

Have you read The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult? It also takes place during this time period. Some parts are very difficult to read due to the subject matter, but it's a great book.