BWW Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

BWW Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

BWW Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

"To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air."


By now, you've likely heard of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. It was 2014's sleeper hit and sat on the New York Times Best Sellers List for over a hundred week. It won the Pulitzer Prize, was a National Book Award Finalist, and won many other awards. The book was so popular for so long, that it only came out in paperback this month, almost exactly three years since its debut.
Not every book that hits the New York Times Best Seller List or wins a lot of awards can be considered "good" fiction or "an intense read" or "not stuffy in the slightest" to the general public, so when something truly remarkable comes along, it is a triumphant moment. It took Doerr ten years to write his masterpiece, and it was time well spent. In fact, here's a really interesting video from the author about what went into the book's creation:

To put it simply, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is historical fiction at its best. Before you say, "Historical fiction isn't really my genre," let me tell you, it's not mine, either. And yet this book is so, so good. I picked it up out of curiosity because it had won SO MANY awards, and was surprised to find I couldn't put it down and absolutely flew through it.

The novel is comprised into "before" and the "present." There are two main characters whose lives we are privvy to during WWII.:

MARIE-LAURE is blind and living in Paris with her father. Her father is the principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History. When the two are forced to evacuate Paris, her father is granted custody of a diamond that may or my not be an expensive forgery of a priceless cursed jewel.

WERNER is an orphan with a short future. His father died in the mines, and he already knows he'll be forced down the same career path when he turns fifteen; he is also sentenced to die young in the mines. His true love, however, revolves around forbidden subjects math and science. When he is only eight, he finds--and restores--a broken radio. As he grows older, he becomes known in his district for his ability to fix radios. When a German lance corporal needs a radio fixed and Werner does what no adult could, he writes him a recommendation letter so he can take entrance exams to get into the National Political Institutes of Education. Werner is thrilled to escape the sentence of working in the mines and dying young like his father, of being able to learn in the open and tinker with radios. But what will getting into the premier school for Hitler's youth take away from him?

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE was impossible to put down. The writing was gorgeous and nuanced. Seeing the world through blind eyes was stunning, and I adored the chapters from Marie-Laure's perspective. Her father was amazing, such a good, caring man. His inventions to help his daughter were spectacular. My heart ached for her hardships. It also ached for Werner. All he wants is to learn, and he gets sucked up into a war that steals so much from him. The mystery of the cursed jewel also made a compelling addition to the story that kept me reading. No matter what segment or time period I was in the middle of reading, I always wanted to get back to the other time, the other things happening. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know outcomes. I wanted to see how and if Marie-Laure's path may or may not cross into Werner's.

I can't even tell you what I loved so much about this novel. It's outside of my typical wheelhouse. It's so well-written and the characters are so compelling. I had borrowed this, and became so immersed in the world that I had to buy my own copy. I went for an ebook copy because there was so much I wanted to highlight and remember. I had so many feels as I made my way through this, and all I wanted to do was read, so it sucked when I had to stop reading and work. All of the praise heaped upon this novel is earned; this is a stunning novel that will have a lasting impact on readers for years to come.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr was published by Scribner / Simon and Schuster on May 6, 2014.


More From This Author

Bonnie Lynn Wagner Bonnie Lynn Wagner has been a reader for as long as she can remember. Friends frequently come to her for book recommendations, and eventually, she decided to start reviewing books in order to share her love of them with everyone! While her favorite genre is fantasy, she reads and reviews many others, from contemporary novels to juvenile picture books.

When she isn't reviewing books, you can find her on Twitter @abackwardsstory talking about musicals, nail polish, and Disney, among other things!

She continues to review at if you'd like even more book recommendations!