By Daniel Stout
Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” is in the slow-read category, but not in the monotonous sense of the word. On the contrary it is a lively fascinating book; it just demands a thoughtful pace. This reviewer is drawn to the pensive reading experience where a page-a-day can be immensely satisfying. That is if one adheres to Anna Quindlen’s thoughtful reading concept. Reading is in the mind, and some books let the imagination wander. All the Light is such a book. Mormons that enjoy perusal of a sentence followed by gazing-out-the-window rumination should enjoy this tale. If you’re lamenting the lost art of thinking, allow Doerr’s artful prose to come to the rescue.
It is the tale of two teenagers in World War II France: A blind girl and a male member of the Hitler youth. The latter figuratively eyeless. These are disparate worldviews, but their lives eventually converge. The merge of mindsets not only makes a good story, but forces the reader to confront delicious dilemmas avoided in our religious lives. Why don’t we recognize the limitations of authority? What is it about evil that makes it so difficult to discern?
It’s a novel about life’s ironies. Happiness is somehow drawn from contradiction, and ultimately there is no happiness, only an arduous journey. All the Light holds a mirror up to our journeys eliciting reflection of readers’ earthly sojourns. It raises more questions than it answers, but that that’s the goal of the author. It’s a a book to think with.
I had heard that All the Light was a literary achievement, but was unprepared for the elegant use of metaphor and well-crafted writing. Varied sentence length and brevity are but a few of the peruser’s delights. Doerr’s artistic workmanship is present in line after line. Take this sentence, for example. Four words, but a hundred interpretations:
Still night. Still early.
Ultimately, it is a book about the paradoxes of nature, i.e., so nurturing yet so cruel. Doerr schools us on a vital subject. Life may impair us, but never obstructs our drive to uncover love in its dark recesses. Read this novel, and don’t be afraid to take a year.