All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Marie Laure and Werner are young adults during World War II. One blind, the other an orphan; one a young French girl, the other a young German radio operator. Both find themselves in the small town of Saint Melo during the German occupation of France.

The book is a beautifully crafted tale of two people caught in situations beyond their control trying to find their way, literally through their senses. All the Light we Cannot See is full of detailed description as if Doerr is attempting to feel his way through the simple, yet multi-layered stories of kind, generous people whose lives are turned upside down by war.

Although set in the 1930s and 1940s of Germany and France, it is difficult not to read the story and its descriptions of shattering windows, basement shelters and thousands of people, families, parents, grandparents, crazy uncles and frightened children on the run without thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and devestation in Syria.

We read books like these and are moved by the plight of the characters, silently grateful that we don’t have to experience the same horrors, that the war ended and a peaceful Europe rose from the ashes.

I recently re-read passages of Anthony Doerr’s book – and once again was struck by the shortness of our collective memories. The generation that experienced the horrors of that war are still alive to bear witness to the atrocities committed and the years and reasons that led to them.
Yet, here we are, making similar mistakes, accepting – if not applauding – similar rhetoric, giving in to similar fears, one group of scapegoats exchanged for another, watching a generation of Europeans leaders who cannot agree on letting in the Marie Laures of our time.


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Austin Sailsbury