This is not the first story that we have read/heard about the World War II and it is not the last. Almost 75 years since the end of the great war, we still have stories to tell, emotions to curb, thoughts to ponder and tributes to pay. Millions of lives were lost during the war which would mean a million stories prevail.
“All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr narrates the story of two such lives who are on the either side of the war but not actively participating in it. Marie-Laurie, a visually challenged girl is only Twelve when they had to leave Paris and set foot into Saint- Malo. The Germans are on the other side attacking the city to capture the French. On the other side of this war is Werner Pfennig, who is charmingly intellectual but forced to be a part as a technical expert with radios and communications.
Over the next 532 pages, the story flip-flops in two dimensions: a) from the point of view of Werner and Marie-Laurie and b)
a) from the point of view of Werner and Marie-Laurie and b)
b) time starting 1940 leading up to 1944.
Anthony Doerr follows a technique that is not so commonly used in Historical fictions- the short chapters. Generally, historical fictions demand extensive attention to detail by loading off an intense amount of information to the reader. It is not a bad thing given the fact that someone is reading a historical because they are interested in the setting as much as the story. Anthony Doerr does that too. He feeds you with loads of detailed information but ensures the focus is not on a single object.
Anthony Doerr does that too. He feeds you with loads of detailed information but ensures the focus is not on a single object.
He feeds you with loads of detailed information but ensures the focus is not on a single object. The chapters are occasionally just one page long and sometimes goes to seven to eight pages. The good thing about short chapters is you do not get tired of being in the same setting for way too long and the downside is keeping track of what’s happening at each setting.
He counters it with another technique – the sections. The sections and titles were marked eloquently such that you can separate out 1940s sections and 1944s sections and just read the story in a linear narration rather than the flip flops mentioned above.
The attention to detail and the empathy for the lives that were stuck amid the battle for power of politicians/ stories makes the book a wonderful read. If only it was easy to plug in information from a third, fourth and some other sources, it would be a great historical compilation of Saint Malo.