All The Light We Cannot See’: A Story of Friendship

Luke Park, age 14

Late at night I opened Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See.” The night wore on, the hours passed, and so too did the pages. I was brought back to familiar places: Paris on the eve of the German invasion. There, while looking down a cobblestone street lined with quaint houses, I could smell the warm pastries escaping bakeries. Next, I was in an orphanage in the German coal-mining city of Zollverein, rundown and rampant with poverty. Many war novels had taken me to similar settings (though few so vividly realized), but Doerr’s novel confronted me with something different, an earnest tale of friendship and peace that escapes the over-trod good vs. evil that dominates World War II books.

Doerr’s novel centers on a young French girl, Marie-Laure, and Werner Pfennig, a German teenage boy. Werner and Marie’s conflict is timeless, a story about two individuals who could not possibly be more different coming together, but Doerr keeps the reader on edge because Marie and Werner are such effective foils. Marie is a blind French girl attempting to survive advancing German soldiers, while Werner lives on the opposite side hunting, alongside his fellow countrymen, elements of the French Resistance. Marie desperately tries to hide, while Werner and the rest of the imposing German army hunt her and other elements of the resistance.

The kinetic pace of Doerr’s novel makes this well-worn trope work. Flipping back and forth between Werner and Marie in short two- to three-page long chapters may create a whiplash effect for some readers, but it animates the stories central tangle. Moreover, it forces the reader to reflect upon the occurring events. The chapters are brief but effective, allowing the story’s events and themes to seep in before the reader is catapulted into the next segment.

“All the Light We Cannot See” amply demonstrates what it means to be on opposite poles of a conflict and yet share the same tragedy. It evades the clichéd conclusions about good vs. evil that plague so many World War II novels and does so all at a brisk clip. It neither validates the righteous nor condemns the wrong but rather sews the two together. “All the Light We Cannot See” is different, and its captivating story kept me turning its pages all night until the book lay face down on my nightstand finished.