All the Light We Cannot See
“All the light we cannot see” is a beautiful novel about a French girl who suffered from being blind and a young talented German boy, whose paths collide in occupied France as they both try to survive the devastation of World War Two. Marie-Laure has been blind since she was six and she lived in Paris until the invasion when she moved to Saint Malo, a small coastal town in France where her great-uncle lives. Werner, the young German boy, is from a dead-end town and wouldn’t have made it past the mines but he was lucky. He was selected to join the brutal Hitlers Youth Academy for his knack in radios. He had been deconstructing and rebuilding radios since he was a young boy and learned the art of radio technology and electronics. The enchanting storyline brings you along in their journeys while also helps to embed the characters into your heart with Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle).
The story is based on acceptance and appreciation that disability can be an ability. The idea that you could be weakened by something like blindness or deafness but strengthened in other compensating ways, creating a new and different experience of life. Throughout the book, Marie-Laure never sees herself as anything less than any other person and believes that her disability can be used to her advantage. Marie-Laure’s father builds models of Paris and Saint-Malo to allow her to navigate throughout the city unaccompanied. Sight becomes no longer necessary as she uses her heightened senses of touch and hearing to her advantage and to escape when the Germans come looking for her. This opens the gate to an independent lifestyle without the constant need for a caregiver and the opportunity to navigate the world on her own. This independence only gradually develops as her doting father was always around so she relied heavily on him and it wasn’t until he was gone that she matured and developed her confidence. I have not had any personal experience with a blind person but my sister suffers dyslexia and struggles with reading and writing on a daily basis. What my family and I have come to discover is that she is very creative and has a conceptual mind which benefits her greatly in other areas.
I connected to the character of Marie-Laure and appreciated her struggles but was impressed by her strengths even more and the emotional connection I had to her character provided me an engaging and heartfelt experience from the book.