Pen To Paper: Reviewing The Written Symphony Of 'All the Light We Cannot See'

Pen To Paper: Reviewing The Written Symphony Of 'All the Light We Cannot See'

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr illuminates to us the morality that man still holds within ourselves, that might flicker occasionally, but is still very much there, ingrained in our cores, our truest selves.

Aanya ThakurUpdated: Sunday, April 14, 2024, 03:39 PM IST
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Aanya Thakur | File

At the onset of history, we often consider the world wars as pinnacles of destruction—a calamity internally and externally. An abundance of lives had been discretely ripped apart, as they all withstood individual onslaughts, whether they were part of the conflict or not.

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr illuminates to us the morality that man still holds within ourselves, that might flicker occasionally, but is still very much there, ingrained in our cores, our truest selves.

The novel is nominally a book of historical fiction—holding to its centre the story and the reality of Paris’s invasion by Nazi Germany, concentrating on two teenage characters leading parallel existences and from juxtaposing environments. The protagonists are Marie-Laure, a blind

French girl who seeks sanctuary at her uncle’s home in Saint-Malo after Paris is razed by the Nazis and her father is arrested, joining the French resistance, and Werner Penning, a brilliant German boy who is condemned to an unfruitful life in a coal mine when he joins a Nazi school, intrigued by the grandeur of the Hitler Youth, sacrificing all he has to become a scientist, including leaving behind his younger sister, but is instead crowded into military service.

Werner is remarkably multifaceted— torn apart between his loyalty to his country, and the atrocities it has committed, as well as his own brilliance. Marie-Laure is a character of complexity and resourcefulness, an adept heroine.

The story revolves around Werner and Marie-Laure’s many barriers into making something of themselves in a war where everybody is forgotten, their oblations that they extend simply to be of service to what they believe in, and above all, how they, despite their dissimilarities, try to be good to one another. The book recognises our own starvation for space.

As Werner and Marie-Laure’s stories intersect, Doerr makes us realise how distressing the realities of war were, and through his laconic and ephemeral sentences, he shows us how fleeting life can be. The story dangles you off the side of a cliff, perpetually leaving you in a state of curiosity, and wonder, as you traverse this century along with the protagonists.

The story is told through the third person perspectives of Werner and Marie-Laure, and switches regularly, giving you an equal opportunity to be fused with both characters. The novel's structure, with short, interwoven chapters, creates a compelling rhythm, but might seem slow-paced to some.

Doerr manipulates a plethora of cacophonic sounds to annex the actuality of weaponry and genocide, which naturally juxtaposes the delicacy of the internal strives of each character. His prose, however, is still clean and lean, despite the grime and tragedy of war that shadows it, but is nothing short of mesmerising, painting this world with remarkable precision; an art all in his own.

I was constantly waiting for the story to turn a corner, to reveal slightly to us what might be the denouement, but Doerr weaves suspense so masterfully even in such a tell-tale environment that the reader is forever waiting, and eventually, unable to grasp the tumultuous ending after going through the brightest and darkest corners of humanity, which leaves readers emotionally shattered yet with hope—the symphony of the linguistic artistry and the profound truth of spirit.

The book is a self-portrait, and is apt for young adults and above, and while the history might be of select fascination, it is a story we should all intake. ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ reveals to us how the world survives.

(This review is part of the winning reviews published in the Pen to Paper contest hosted by The Free Press Journal annually. This exclusive contest is open to teenagers only)

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