Examining A Story Of War, Humanity, And Relentless Hope

Refracted Light: Examining A Story Of War, Humanity, And Relentless Hope

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See is a timeless classic about family and unlikely kinship in humanity's darkest hours.


"At dusk they pour from the sky."

In less than 100 words—86 to be precise—Anthony Doerr sets the pace for his World War II novel in a single-paged chapter. Sentences that resonate in the readers' minds with a sharp, staccato beat, couplings of adjectives and nouns that create vivid imagery, and an omnipresent, looming threat of danger are all qualities of Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See.

A few (characteristically) short chapters later, we are introduced to the novel's two main characters.

Enter Marie-Laure LeBlanc: French, six-years old, blind, and undoubtedly obsessed with marine creatures of all forms. She leads a quaint existence with her devoted father in a small Parisian apartment near the Natural History Museum where her father works as a locksmith. As the novel progresses, Marie-Laure, now twelve, escapes Paris with her father as Nazi Germany encroaches upon the country's borders. The duo reaches St. Malo, a coastal French town, where the pair reunite with Etienne, Marie-Laure's great-uncle; however, even in this refuge, they are far from safety. Her father's disappearance, French Resistance activities, and a cursed gemstone weigh heavily upon Marie-Laure's life.

Welcome Werner Pfennig: German, seven-years-old, orphan, and painfully curious with the way the world operates. Werner lives in Zollverein, a bleak coal mining town, along with his younger sister, Jutta. At age 15, Werner is expected to enter the same coal mines that killed his father; yet, he is extremely gifted in the realms of mathematics and engineering. Instead of working in the mines, Werner is sent to a national school where the boys are versed in a suffocating amount of Nazi propaganda. Werner's engineering talents shine through the drab uniformity, and later, he becomes a lucrative piece of the German army. Committing horrible crimes along the way, Werner's own moral compass is tested, and he begins to doubt his great nation's motives which may cost him his life.

All the Light We Cannot See is teeming with glowing elements. For one, Doerr's characters are rich in personality; they are believable, lovable individuals with personal quirks and passions that make them realistic. This common empathic thread allows readers to connect with them. Consequently, each heart-wrenching obstacle the characters face elicits raw, intense emotion. My copy of All the Light We Cannot See, for instance, contains a plethora of dried tear splotches on the pages that depict Marie-Laure's abandoned book in the hall of the Natural History Museum as her and her father rush to escape the ensuing German invasion. Moments like Marie-Laure's discarded book are augmented by Doerr's ability to create delectable descriptions that evoke emotion and striking imagery.

In addition to Doerr's lyrical, descriptive language, sharp syntax is prevalent within his prose. Throughout the novel, Doerr uses short sentences to create a quick-paced novel that reads more like a thriller than a historical fiction. His sentences leave a frenetic impression--the same freneticism associated with World War II. True to form, from diction to syntax, Doerr maintains his literary efficiency by aiming, shooting, and delivering a perfect scene that creates a photographic snapshot for his readers.

Doerr should also receive kudos for tackling a war fiction in a way that deviates from the standard. His work embraces a different point-of-view while maintaining the key sentiments that should be included in a description of war. Furthermore, Doerr employs an abundance of symbols and motifs to distinguish his story from other period pieces. All the Light We Cannot See is embellished with these jewels; things like sight, whelks (a type of mollusk), and radio transmission waves represent overarching themes like intuitiveness, tenacity, and interconnectedness. Of the many symbols and motifs in the novel, the most powerful image is the radio transmission wave. The waves are the threads that sew Marie-Laure and Werner's story together, and more importantly, a radio broadcast is the catalyst that prompts Werner to save Marie-Laure in a dire moment. Here, technology truly becomes their saving grace: an invisible light in a time of perpetual darkness.

Even with the story's luminescent points, gloomy moments are still apparent. The first item on a relatively short "cons" list is that, although the characters are well-developed, some fall short as the novel progresses. More specifically, Werner falls into the tired "Nazi German soldier" trope. He transitions into the stock character who is conflicted with his moral responsibility as a human and that as a soldier. Werner's unique inquisitive personality is lost, and when moments of pre-war Werner attempt to shine through, it appears forced. Doerr's effort is remarkably similar to asking a dog to walk on its hind legs: it can be done, but not very well.

Another less palatable quality of Doerr's work is the sheer amount of cultural faux-pas's that persist throughout the entirety of the novel. Some of the characters' phrases and thoughts do not match their respective cultural linguistics of the era--though, I can only critique the French characters due to my four years of high school French classes. When 63-year-old Etienne utters "fuck this place," I cannot help but first imagine my French teacher's horror, then process my own shock and sum up my disbelief with a single word: really? Americanism is one of the novel's recurring (and most glaring) mistakes, and it could have been corrected with more careful research on Doerr's part.

While All the Light We Cannot See contains some faults, these faults are not strong enough to eclipse the novel's general light. Doerr succeeds in creating a brisk (yet eloquent) thriller by setting charming characters and a complex storyline against a backdrop of political turbulence. Thanks to Doerr's craftsmanship, Marie-Laure and Werner's story will continue to transmit shockwaves across generations and hopefully inspire goodness and humanity in times of abiding darkness.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

While parts of the U.S. are beginning to re-open after months in quarantine, the future of date nights at home is still bright — because, let's face it, wearing masks to a fancy restaurant with your boo in the coming months just doesn't sound fun.

So, if you're looking to have a little romantic fun indoors, we've got just the games for you. Click through the slideshow below for 11 couples games that'll help you two become closer than ever.

Keep Reading... Show less

I've always been interested in any product that can get me the Jennifer Lopez-esque natural glow. I'm Indian and have medium-toned skin, so getting darker was never really the goal. Rather, I've always looked for a product that would even out my skin tone and cellulite, basically making my legs look Photoshopped.

Now more than ever we're craving that healthy, tan glow most of us only get after spending a week poolside with margarita in hand. We may not be spending an SPF-soaked summer hitting on our local lifeguards. But when we're going on socially-distanced walks outside, taking viral-worthy selfies, or just want to test out the best self-tanners for when you do finally get to show off all the bikinis you binge-purchased through your quarantine boredom, these are the best to ways to glow up, no matter your shade of skin, whether you have uber-sensitive eczema-ridden skin, or just want J-Lo glow, smooth legs.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Quarantine Checkup Week 10: It's Officially Summer, Even In Quarantine

An Odyssey panel discussion about all things quarantine.

Thanks to coronavirus (COVID-19), most of the United States has gone into its own version of quarantine. While no one loves this new way of life we're adjusting to, it's the necessity that will eventually help us fling open our front doors and frolic freely once again!

Premature thinking? Maybe. But while we're in the midst of this quarantine time, we're chatting about the most terrifying, the funniest, and the weirdest thing that quarantine has forced us into recently.

Keep Reading... Show less

13 Father's Day Shirts Under $30 To Gift The Dad Wearing The Same Two Every Day In Quarantine

You've been begging him to change it up, and now he won't have a choice.

Let's be honest: most of our dads are wearing the same shirts today that they probably wore while changing our diapers and holding our hands as we learned to walk. Sure, we love them for it. But whether you're quarantined with him wearing the same two shirts on rotation every week, or every time you FaceTime him, you know what he'll be wearing before he answers the phone, he needs to add some new items to his wardrobe rotation.

And you know dads — they'll feel guilted into using practically anything you were to give them. But these shirts are sure-fire ways to get him to switch up his wardrobe, and he'll be more than excited to wear each and every one of them. Plus, most of them are under twenty dollars, so no harm in dropping more than a couple in to your cart and letting Dad have his pick of his favorites.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Sat Down (Virtually) With Hollis Tuttle To Talk About Coronavirus's Impact On The Wellness Industry

Just because coronavirus has greatly impacted the wellness industry doesn't mean wellness stops.

If you're anything like me, your weekly fitness classes are a huge part of your routine. They keep me fit, healthy, and sane. Honestly, these classes help my mental health stay in tip-top shape just as much as they help my physical health.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, gyms and fitness studios are facing temporary closure. Yes, this means my personal routine is thrown a curveball, but this also means the wellness industry is one of many that is looking at unemployment and hardship. Do I miss my Monday spin class? Of course. But do the wellness professionals whose worlds were flipped upside down have a lot more to overcome than a slight change of routine? Absolutely. Thankfully, if anyone can prove the ultimate flexibility, it's the wellness industry.

Keep Reading... Show less

My Boyfriend Has Changed Since Quarantine Began, And I Don't Know What To Do

"All he says is 'I love you,' which is great and all but OMG I can't get anything else out of him."

Each week Swoonie B will give her advice on anonymous topics submitted by readers. Want to Ask Swoonie B something related to dating and relationships? Fill out this form here — it's anonymous.

Dear Swoonie B,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost a year, which has been the best year of my life (as far as i know). Well we go to different schools and are both very involved in sports and school activities which makes it hard to see each other. During this quarantine it is especially hard. Since we haven't seen each other in over a week things are kind of tense. He won't really talk to me much and I always check in on him to make sure he is doing well and to just see how he is, ya know being a girlfriend. Well apparently that is driving him crazy and I don't understand how. I'm not being controling or clingy, i'm just checking in on him. While this is happening, I also have noticed how he just doesn't really care anymore. I'll leave him paragraphs of sweet love letters to wake up to and I encourage him throughout his day but I just don't get it in return. I love him with all of me and I obviously care about him a lot. Also, I've compared how he talked to me before all of this has happened. He was so sweet and caring, texting me a lot and telling me he loves me and just making sure everything is OK but he doesn't do that anymore. All he says is "I love you," which is great and all but OMG I can't get anything else out of him. He is a little stressed at home with trying to find another job to pay for his car, constantly having to do things for his mom, being responsible for his siblings, and managing school. I know thats a lot but im doing a lot too right now and going through a lot of the same stuff he is but It seems to me he just does not care and i don't know what to do. Please help me or give me some advice on what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do. Anything at this point will help. Thank you!

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "these are unprecedented times," I'd be rich. But that's because it's true!

Keep Reading... Show less
Tower 28

On paper, Amy Liu appears to be one of the most intimidating women in the beauty business. Not only did she launch her beauty marketing career at legendary Smashbox Cosmetics, she went on to lead luxury, high-end brands like Kate Somerville and Josie Maran — just to name a few.

But sitting down to meet Liu for the first time in an underground New York bar over a year ago felt like meeting a friend I'd known since childhood. As she walked into the bar in a chic red dress, it was impossible not to feel her immediate warm presence. When she talks about her history as an entrepreneur (and truly, at heart, she always was one), you don't get the sense that she's selling you anything, though with her impeccable taste, I'd use anything that had her glowing review attached to it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments