All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Audible Audiobook – Unabridged

4.6 out of 5 stars 68,693 ratings

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Product details

Listening Length 16 hours and 2 minutes
Author Anthony Doerr
Narrator Zach Appelman
Whispersync for Voice Ready Release Date May 06, 2014
Publisher Simon & Schuster Audio
Program Type Audiobook
Version Unabridged
Language English
Best Sellers Rank #324 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#2 in Military Historical Fiction
#4 in War & Military Fiction
#7 in War Fiction (Books)

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
68,693 global ratings

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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 14, 2015
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 17, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars See the Light through Superb Writing with Profound Lessons
By Booksalottle on August 17, 2018
Being the recipient of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, my expectations for 'All the Light we Cannot See' were extremely high. With all things considered, I feel confident in saying that the critical acclaim was warranted and deserved in this case. Despite two minor annoyances, which I cover at the end, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is a phenomenally written, percipient, and remarkable example of sound literature.

Author Anthony Doerr tells the story of how 18 years old Werner, a geeky, crafty, and thoughtful engineering prodigy in Germany, meets 16 years old Marie-Laure, a sweet, astute, and affable blind French girl during the siege of Saint-Malo in 1944. WWII, with all its stentorian and fervid trappings of war is the backdrop to Werner and Marie-Laure's fateful encounter. Written in short but vividly described, intricately woven chapters, the backstory of how they are brought together is told over the course of ten years starting in 1944 and flashing back as far as 1934. Through alternating timelines from both their perspectives, they meet and thereafter, the aftermath and implications of the encounter is written about up until the year 2014.

Several pages into the novel, I knew I had a special literary piece in my hands. Werner and Marie-Laure are easy to fall in love with as Doerr writes them in a way that is honest and open. They are both multi-faceted in their strengths and their vulnerabilities, without either one playing a victim. Or at least, I never saw either one as a victim. I also appreciated that foibles, frailty, and other unsavory personality traits are depicted for both, allowing them to be alive with authenticity. I never want to read about characters who are too perfect and give the sun, the moon, and the stars all of the time. In the case of this novel, the two main protagonists are realistic for their time and for the circumstances they find themselves in. Joining Werner and Marie-Laure is a dynamic, and at times unfortunate mix of supporting characters who collectively illuminate the radiance and light of when humanity is good and kind. Juxtaposed, others in the mix depict the ugly darkness of when humanity resorts to selfishness and evil. Though they are fictional, we should all be so lucky as to encounter characters like Frederick, Madame Manec, Frau Elena, and Dr. Geffard, and hope the world breeds less of Dr. Hauptmann, Bastian, and Reinhold von Rumpel.

'All the Light we Cannot See' has many lessons to impart on the reader, with one of the most profound being the titular Light that we must all see. The novel soundly shows us how those who are blind in the literal sense, can see more than those who have the ability to gaze as far as their eyes will carry. Additionally, the novel allows the reader to see for themselves how people whose visions are symbolically foggy, can still find goodness of heart and lightness of mind in unlikely places, and in the unlikeliest of people. Thought-provokingly, Doerr weaves for the reader how darkness creeps and consumes those who choose to be figuratively blind and who later become disillusioned by their own rancor, malevolence, and enmity. In the heart of strong-willed characters, we see how love, patience, understanding and empathy become the key that open and illuminate the path into light.

I very much enjoyed this read, and surprisingly, the short chapters were not an annoyance as can sometimes be when the author is not skilled enough to execute them. Doerr is skilled and in the case of 'All the Light we Cannot See,' he, in what was in many instances only a page and a half, or even only half a page, has written cohesive chapters that are richly dense, brimming with cerebral atmosphere that envelopes the reader at the turn of every page. In this regard, I could see Marie-Laure's loneliness, and Werner's moral conflict. I felt the fear and uncertainty in Jutta, Daniel LeBlanc, and Etienne's reticence. I could taste the saltiness in the breeze that wafted over Saint-Malo, while also I could smell the acrid, grey, and gritty skies of Zollverein. Each time a character was famished due to scant war rations, I tasted the sweetness of the cool water they drank and I could taste the crust and crumb of the loaf of bread they tore apart. These are not things easy to achieve in books. Doerr however has done so fantastically.

It goes without saying that there is plenty beauty and radiance to be found in 'All the Light we Cannot See.' Some of it emanates directly from the characters, while other times, it comes from the reader's own willingness to be open-minded. Taking that into mind, there were only two minor concerns I had with the novel. First being that when the author went into descriptive details of radio repair and engineering principles, my eyes would on occasion glaze over a bit since neither subject matter are strengths of mine. Nevertheless, as a curious reader, I know that it was necessary for me and other readers to know Werner's technical acumen when the author painstakingly described the workings of transmitters, transceivers, and the intricacies of repairing electronics.

The second minor concern I had with the novel was the very last chapter, which covered the year 2014. So that I don't inadvertently give spoilers, I will simply say that I would have liked this chapter better if it was written differently. I loved the significance of it and the observations made, but I would have liked it better minus the game playing grandson. Also, I would have preferred the scene take place during a final visit to Saint-Malo rather than where the scene is depicted. Even better would have been if this very last chapter had been cut altogether. Ending the novel on the previous chapter labeled "Frederick," would have had a better impact in my view.

Despite the minor misstep in the last chapter, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is superb all around and I absolutely recommend it. I also want to point out that unlike some readers, the back and forth narrative depicting differing timelines and differing character perspectives did NOT bother me one bit. This is a technique that I appreciate and think it is one of the reasons why this novel is so special. Readers who complain about this non-linear technique must challenge their ability (or lack of it) to retain multiple levels of story details as the plot progresses. For serious readers who like their books to have weighty, loaded implications, and for readers who appreciate intelligent writing that give literary gifts every turn of the page, 'All the Light we Cannot See' is for you. Read carefully and "open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever." 5 Stars!
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