All the Light We Cannot See

Come now. You’ve never heard of the Sea of Flames?

Legend has it that the 133 carat diamond–pear shaped, sea blue outer edges and flaming red at it’s core–possess a curse equivalent to it’s worth.

The keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain…But if the keeper threw the diamond into the sea, thereby delivering it to its rightful recipient, the goddess would lift the curse.

Are curses real? Or does the world operate only on logic, fitting lock-and-key? Throughout the years of the Second World War, Marie-Laure LeBlanc wonders. She has never seen the diamond, thought plenty of things go wrong. Marie-Laure is blind, young, acutely aware of her surroundings. She trusts descriptions of things supplied by others, but her heightened senses compensate for all that she can’t see.

To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.

A miniature model of Paris, built by her father, allows her to navigate the streets from memory. Her father is the master locksmith of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, where the controversial diamond is kept safe. Upon Germany’s occupation in Paris, Marie-Laure and her father–now charged with safekeeping the diamond–flee the city. They seek refuge in the coastal citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s estranged great-uncle has a tall, mysterious house.

Apart from everything she knows, Marie-Laure must begin again, roving her hands almond the tiny streets of a hastily-constructed Saint-Malo model. She sets out to engage her eccentric uncle, a man suffering from agoraphobia and delusions. Starting with her fingertips, the world begins to take shape around her.

She is less alone than she thinks.

In a coal-mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig grows up in an orphanage with his little sister, Jutta. An inquisitive child, he is small, mathematical, gifted with repairing radios. His Aryan appearance and special talent delivers him to the merciless academy for Hitler Youth, where his curious passion is cultivated for destruction.

In a coal-mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig grows up in an orphanage with his little sister, Jutta. An inquisitive child, he is small, mathematical, preoccupied with fixing broken things. His greatest interest is the radio; he repairs a small, salvaged model that entertains he and his sister throughout the nights. His Aryan appearance and special talent delivers him to the merciless academy for Hitler Youth, where his curious passion is cultivated for destruction.

At school, he spends his evenings developing a radio, triangulating formulas; his professor directs him to solve the equations as if they’re merely number that mean nothing. Once he’s drafted into war on special assignment, Werner sees beyond his figures:

Creaking ice, villages burning in forest, nights were it becomes too cold even to snow–that winter presents a strange and haunted season during which Werner prowls the static like he used to prowl the alleys with Jutta, pulling her in the wagon through the colonies of Zollverein. A voice materializes out of the distortion in his headphones, then fades, and he goes ferreting after it. There, thinks Werner, when he finds it again, there: a feeling like shutting your eyes and feeling your way down a mile-long thread until your fingernails find the tiny lump of a knot.

In foreign fields with his crew, Werner eavesdropping resistance broadcasts, determines their locations, silences their calls.

His assignment leads him finally, to Saint-Malo, the edge of the continent, an encircled city, shining like the hidden gem it contains. Saint-Malo is bordered on three sides by the gushing blue sea, smoldering in flames at it’s center, and harder, now, for the Germans to keep. Here, one member of the resistance streams a broadcast Werner struggles to silence, first in the airwaves and then inside himself. It is here that his story entwines with Marie-Laure who holds the stone like hope in her hands, waiting, wondering, if anyone will be saved…

More than a story of war or mythological curses, All the Light We Cannot See illuminates the concept of belief in the shadows of logic. Doerr delves into how our beliefs shape us as individuals, our decisions, our lives. Whether in the logic of science or the whims of legends, the characters here must hold true to what they trust, for it marks the deeper meaning of their existence. Written with visceral clarity, this story is part historical novel, part literary gem.

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