I have a soft spot for books and stories set in either of the world war periods of the twentieth century. It’s close enough in time to feel familiar and far enough away to enable those standing on the other side to reflect on the horror and the beauty of people inextricably entrenched in global and local conflict. How in god’s name do we survive these things?
All the Light We Cannot See is the story of Marie-Laure, a blind Parisian girl of 10 and her father a keeper of keys and the maker of miniature cities who flee to St. Malo France, during the occupation of Paris in the Second World War. The other main character Werner, is a German boy the same age as Marie and a technical radio wizard who escapes the poverty of his orphaned family life through conscription to a brutal elite German military school that serves the Third Reich.
As we follow Werner’s story it is his talent with radio technology that makes him particularly adept at tracking resistance fighters…and ultimately this is what leads him across eastern Europe to St. Malo where Marie and her father live with an eccentric great uncle….a resistance fighter.
A part of this story is also about highly prized gem..one that has supposed dark powers and which is eagerly sought by the Nazis. This part of the story doesn’t particularly interest me too much.
But what I found magical about this book are the stories of “the things we cannot see”….the worlds that are created for us by art, technology, imagination and the greatness of the human heart. Marie’s father builds miniature cities for her, exact replicas of where she lives so she can ‘see’ where she is going…so she can explore her world.
As for Marie, her world is also made bigger by the books her father buys her and her uncle shares with her. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea weaves its way throughout the story. Werner and his sister Jutta’s worlds are made vast and beautiful by the French science lessons they secretly listen to through Werner’s radio…a moment that ties two French brothers love of the world and technology to two lonely children in Germany.
The convergence of Marie-Laure’s world and her love of books meets Werner’s when she reads Twenty Thousand Leagues using the radio and unwittingly broadcasts ‘art’ to the world and to Werner in his moment of darkness.
Wow, it is these moments that I live for and it is handled beautifully in this grand tale. Go buy this book. Read it. Enjoy it and then pass it on. Art is what makes humans beautiful.