I have got quite a long post looking at the book ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, published in 2014.
Spoiler free but includes many quotes from the book in the last part so if you want to experience them first hand in the reading experience I would recommend reading the book first. This post includes book themes and character qualities but no plot points.
What’s the book about?
A story that follows two children in very different situation in World War II (a blind French girl and a German orphan). It follows their emotional journey and how the war impacted them as they try to survive the destruction.
“Simple details to say much” – John Freeman
“A tender exploration of this world’s paradoxes; the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time… A compelling and uplifting novel”– M L Stedman
A book about any of the world wars isn’t necessarily one I would pick up because my go-to genre is fantasy with dragons and magic not historical fiction. Also we learn a lot about them throughout school so I feel like I didn’t want to read anymore personally. But in school the war can feel like a detached reality in a way– you learn facts and information. And some of those are staggering and you are aware of the trauma and the horrendous time it was but you don’t really feel it. Especially when you then have to memorise it for a test because then it is just a fact. Which is why this book is so good and so important. Because it makes you feel the tragedy and times so exceptionally well. It was basically a time portal.
I was suggested this book as I was buying the book thief and I can see why– obviously both based in the Second World War and both take the approach of looking at it from an innocent’s view. They have lots of difference though as well. This book is able to capture the devastation and the hope of the people perfectly and made the reader feel every emotions as well. I felt devastated and hopeful with the characters.
Every word held so much purpose in conveying the story and the author’s meaning. It wasn’t screaming at you with what was happening which could have been easy to do especially with the severity and emotions of the topic/s. The words spoke for themselves and left the screaming to you.
This book is a heavy book as I am sure you can guess based on the topic and it isn’t fast-paced. It is so different from my usual favourites but the language was crafted so beautifully and it is definitely a 5 star book to me. And I would recommend it to others but it suits being in the mood for a book with powerful words and meaning.
[Page numbers refer to the paperback release by Fourth Estate in the UK.]
“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” p.48
The idea that darkness can be capable of bringing light and it links to the title- all the light we cannot see.
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” p.48
To appreciate everything whilst you can. To see properly, to admire endlessly, to think constantly.
“He says everyone remembers the last war, and no one is mad enough to go through that again.” p.59
I really like this as it showed that when the war was starting, the constant denial. The thought is too monstrous, too atrocious to even comprehend happening. And why would we do that again?
“Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth” p.63
The use of media can drown your view to a single person’s opinion. It’s dangerous in one person’s hand and can stop you questioning things. A very powerful tool—one the story touched on.
““Ah,” he says, more quietly, his accent fading, the faintest touch of dread returning to his voice, “here we are. Home”” p.151
This was after the adventure of reading and imagining, escaped from reality and that moment when you have to return. That twinge of disappointment. Especially in that time, I imagine stories would be the greatest escape.
“They always seemed to be going somewhere and never doubt that it is the right place to be going” p.165
The blind loyalty of following orders without a question.
“Von Rumpel uses the cheapest of materials, only minutes, only hours” p.178
Time is certainly cheap in the literal value but in life, time really is quite expensive.
Mild spoiler next (if want to avoid go to next quote)——-*I also like the difference that this character ironically was chasing something to give him more time in the end.*
“Why else do any of this if it not to become who we want to be?” ——— “the problem is you still believe you own your life.” p.223
Great quote– constantly moving towards what you want. It’s inspiring. The negative response of the person after—he sees that positive attitude as a problem interesting use of a word. Your life is your own— it’s important to remember that.
“Werner throws the water like all the others…. A perfunctory cheer rises…. His hands have become so numb, they do not seem his own.” p.229
Peer pressure and fear can coax you into doing stuff you don’t want to do and then you can be rewarded for it. It can almost feel right but it’s not– like it said his hands no longer seem his own therefore it would never be right for you.
“Ration card restrictions, abysmal puddings, the deteriorating quality of fingernail varnish- these are crimes they feel in their souls” p.248
War involved a lot of loss, immense loss and I can’t even fathom how that felt to be in it. The loss of life and freedom. I like how it could seem like trivial things that people are hurt about nail polish and puddings when others are losing life but when someone is taking away the life you built, every little things taken– it would feel very frustrated. I like how the author touched on it.
““Isn’t doing nothing a kind of troublemaking?”
“Doing nothing is doing nothing.”
“Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.”” p.229
Reminds me of the concept from Einstein’s quote ‘the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything’ It reminds me that if you see something you don’t like to get up and fight it. If you’re waiting for someone to change it ask yourself why aren’t you trying to change it? We all have power.
“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”….. “But I want fourteen to be young” p.270
To live and survive can be very different. To survive you may have to do things you don’t want and stick in a box you don’t want to be in. But living is risky– you have to conform to your own mind instead of everybody else’s. And risking going against the norm is scary it can put you through a lot and you can lose some things in the process but you have to do it anyway. The protectiveness of people over a child– they won’t risk a child because youth won’t stop death and pain– conform for the child’s safety. I think it is definitely a valid point. Your actions don’t just impact you.
“They sleep despite noise, despite cold, despite hunger, as though desperate to stay removed from the waking world for as long as possible” p.324
I imagine wanting to hide from it all, far too terrible to think about or watch. Sleep the greatest comfort– for it overs nothing.
“Werner feels he is gazing down into the circuitry of an enormous radio, each soldier down there an electron flowing single file down his own electrical path, with no more say in the matter than an electron has.” p.355
The lack of free-thinking and voice and standing up, just instruction given and followed and it caused so much pain. Always try to have the strength to say no to wrong even if it goes badly, you never know you may have inspired someone else to stand up and say no too.
“Why bother to make music when the silence and winds are so much larger? Why light lamps when the darkness will inevitable snuff them out?” p.365
This is slightly negative but you are not always positive and I like how the author made the protagonist have pessimistic thoughts and feel hopeless temporarily- it was realistic. I like how there are questions throw out to his mind and how his attitude changes throughout the story. And I like answering it, it makes you think.
My answer- Because a centimetre of light can be more powerful than miles of darkness.
“To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill a single drop” p.476
Time is an opportunity, what do you do with it? Time is precious, it is not endless so I think this gives me energy to treasure my time and work not only for keeping as much time as I can but to make the best out of the time I have.
“….even as he worries that to concentrate on them too long is to risk wearing them out.” p.479
I thought this was relatable– I sometimes focus so much time on one thing that I think I am going to overdo it and ruin it for myself. Like over listen to a song, over watch a movie, over think a relationship but when I really do love it, you don’t tire of it because love doesn’t weaken because of too much time spent on it, it strengthens.
“It’s embarrassing plain how inadequate language is” p.503
I love this quote and I think language is extremely powerful. But when you are in a moment and feel the weight of every emotion you are feeling—language never seems to be enough to say how you are feeling. From reading I may argue the quote isn’t always true (from reading this book for example) but I get that feeling that what you are feeling feels too immense to be captured in words.
“She only wants a tide of normality to wash in and cover everything again.” p.503
Again something I can relate, to hide anything and be fine- a dangerous temptation and a way to believe you’ve got no problems. But hiding problems leaves no room for a solution.
“It is the obliviousness of our children that saves us.” p.516
The reminder of innocence and happiness untainted by bad memories. Always hopeful and gives others the hope to make the world the one the children imagine.