Wednesday, 29 June 2016

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

We know from the opening chapters of this book that St Malo in France is bombed by the allies in WW2 (August 1944) because it is believed that it is a German stronghold. We also know that a German soldier and a blind French girl are in St Malo at that time.  What we don't know yet is how they got there, and we don't know yet if they will ever meet.

And then we go backwards. To an orphanage in Germany before the war, and a small boy who finds out how to make a radio.  Werner will become the German Soldier, and his sister Jutta will remain in the orphanage until near the end of the war.  In Paris, Marie-Laurie has lost her sight, and her father has built her a model of the arondissement where they live, so that she has a map for her hands, to teach her to navigate her local streets.  The war comes, and each life is described, jumping backwards and forwards, so that we can see how these two arrived in St Malo, and how they both, in small ways, contributed to their country's war efforts. 

The cruelty of any dictator is shocking.  But it is the efficiency of Hitler and his ministers that shocks here.  How boy soldiers were trained and how the weakest were weeded out, the strongest pushed for greater glory.  Man's inhumanity to man is well described in the chapters concerning Werner at his training school, who has to get through training or there will be nothing for him.  I found every page worth reading, but every page had it's own heartbreak.  These two children.  Will they ever gain adulthood?  And after the war, what then?

Superb telling of a war we know a lot about but in a way that perhaps we never thought about.