To be honest, when I first heard about the buzzy (and now Pulitzer Prize-winning) novel All The Light We Cannot See, the plot did little to pique my interest. I am very particular about my historical fiction, generally preferring works that take place in England, particularly Tudor England, so this, a World War II novel set between Paris, a small town in Brittany, and Germany, was a bit of a deviation from my comfort zone. I put it off for a while, shunning it during spring break in favor of absorbing but light reads, such as The Girl on the Train and DVF’s The Woman I Wanted To Be (for the record, both of these are certainly worth a read). However, as my semester came to a close and my schoolwork (or what little of it was left by senior spring) started to wind down, I found myself suggesting a trip to the closest Barnes and Noble – half an hour away – with a few friends, where I finally caved and picked up the book. My friend Kate, who had read it over spring break, insisted it would not disappoint, so I began the book with hopes as high as they could be given my initial lack of enthusiasm.
The beginning of the book was a bit of a slow burn, but once I got a feel for the characters, I was hooked. The story opens with Marie-Laure, a young blind girl in Paris, and her single father, a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History (if memory serves) in Paris. Shortly after, the reader is introduced to Warner Pfennig, a young boy with an incredible talent for transfiguring radios, and his sister Jutta, who is similarly fascinated by science and the radio shows they listen to on the topic. Marie-Laure’s father, who was responsible for crafting a key for the allegedly omnipotent stone ‘The Sea of Flames’, which Hitler decides he wants in his collection of precious jewels. Marie-Laure and her father flee to the seaside home of her eccentric uncle, where her path eventually, but (semi-spoiler alert) disappointingly briefly, crosses with that of Werner’s. The tale is equal parts heart-wrenching (look out for the narrative arc of my favorite character, Frederick), and heartwarming (thanks in large part to Marie-Laure’s relationship with her Uncle), and it certainly is a tour de force deserving of all the accolades it received. My one qualm – it was too long. I am not one to shy away from an epic, and at 538 pages, this hardly was one, but I did feel the story could’ve been reduced by about 50-100 pages without sacrificing quality. All in all, though, if you’re to read one ‘good’ (i.e. non breezy beach read) book this summer, made it All The Light We Cannot See.