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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Stories centered around the second World War have become trite. Yeah, I said it, and that probably makes me an insensitive jerk in some way. But really, the story of WWII has been so rehashed and watered down that it is a huge surprise when an author paints the story in a different light than we've come to expect. Maybe that's not entirely true. There are many great accounts of WWII with only small amounts of propaganda sprinkled in. But there are so many Hollywood-style stories where the Germans are all heinous bastards and the allied forces are wonderfully perfect heroes who save the universe from the dark force in a style that rivals the best (or the worst, depending your perspective) epic space operas. Sprinkle in a Disney ending and you've got a bestseller.


Given my feelings toward WWII lit, it's not a surprise I had such polar sentiments when I learned of Doerr's latest novel. I really love Doerr's writing, but could he pull off such a novel without descending into the conventional western tale? Largely, I think he pulls it off. That's not to say that All the Light We Cannot See doesn't pull occasionally from the bag of Allied stock footage, but overall he makes the story real and original.


 All the Light We Cannot See teeters a line of being over sentimental, but for me it never crossed that line. Maybe it did in the concluding chapters, but by that point I was a believer. Overall, Doerr was wise in deciding when to terminate a scene, when to let the reader feel without manipulation. Aside from the drama that may be too much for some readers, Doerr writes perfectly. The characters are distinct and memorable; I felt for them as though they were real and they'll stick with me for some time. The writing is lush and the scenery is painted so vividly that I feel as though I have visited these cities. The many different threads all come together in a way that is satisfying and logical. The story is told in such quick, alternating chapters that the novel never slogs despite its length. The pacing is near perfect and the story is riveting without becoming overly worked. And the use of objects—I love how masterfully Doerr utilizes objects throughout the story. If any writing instructor is looking for a novel to use for an objects-based lesson, I recommend this one. Oh, and the science broadcasts for children—did anyone else wish they could hear those broadcasts in their entirety? The voice was so perfect, the text so fascinating. If they do not already exist, someone needs to write scientific books for children told in that voice. (And if they do exist, someone let me know what they are.)


All the Light We Cannot See is going to be successful and I'm really happy for its author. 2014 has been a great year for literature (see also Mira Jacob's The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, Cynthia Bond's Ruby, Karen Gettert Shoemaker's The Meaning of Names, as well as others I have yet to read), but Doerr's latest novel will likely be the most well-received and widely acknowledged of the year's literary choices. If you're one to read award winners and those “best of year” books, this one will be one to take note of now.