Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is a beautifully written, poignant story set in Europe during World War II. It tells the story of how a blind, French girl and an orphaned German boy experience the war.

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There is something about World War II that really fascinates and draws me. I think it’s the whole good nobly prevailing over evil thing. But when I read a book like All the Light We Cannot See, which depicts the horrors of war as experienced on a very individual level, it’s clear that there are more losers than winners in wartime.

A main theme of All the Light We Cannot See is the impact war has on the especially vulnerable – children. In that respect, it reminded me a lot of The Book Thief.  The children in both books lose so much – family, friends, innocence, hope, their lives. Sometimes they have adults in their lives who are good people who try to protect them (the relationship between the blind girl, Marie-Laure, and her father is particularly touching ), but ultimately those adults get swept up in events they can’t control and become nearly as powerless as the children.

I actually purchased All the Light We Cannot See about six months ago when it caught my eye on Amazon. It was getting terrific reviews and the book summary sounded interesting. But I strongly suspected it would violate my “I don’t read books that make me cry” rule, so I didn’t read it right away. However, my hand was gently forced when my husband’s book club chose this as their book to read this month and he suggested I read it, too. (If you’re curious what a men’s book club reads, as a generalization I’d say they read more nonfiction than the average women’s book club. I may need to blog about their reading list because it contains some good stuff. )

Anyway, All the Light We Cannot See did make me cry. Twice. The first time wasn’t even triggered by a specific event in the book. Rather, it was a result of reading it all day and being pulled into this steady march towards an ending that could only be heartbreaking. Anthony Doerr’s writing style is beautiful and very effective at creating atmosphere and emotion. And he doesn’t do that by using flowery adjectives or complicated metaphors or esoteric symbolism. In fact, the language he uses is fairly simple and very accessible. It’s the way he knits the language together that is masterful and the reason he won a Pulitzer for this book.

So, I definitely recommend All the Light We Cannot See, but it isn’t light, poolside reading. You need to be in the right frame of mind for it.

Anthony Doerr has become one of my favorite writers. Check out my reviews of more of his works:

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The Shell Collector

All the Light We Cannot See pin

21 thoughts on “Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

  1. I too have been drawn to fiction about World War II and every story sheds a different light on what happened during the war. I was very moved by the children of this book and the connection between them and I had never before given much thought to the importance of radio communication. I also was moved by the relationship between the father and his daughter and all he did to guide and protect her. Your comments about the author’s use of language reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband about differences in style of writing, in general, with male and female authors. This is a generalization, of course! It is the flow of writing, in the end, which leads me to enjoy reading an author’s work or not and Anthony Doerr writes beautifully.


    • Thanks for the comments, Virginia. Good point about radios. That seems like such a primitive way to communicate these days, although we may have to revert to radios if the zombie apocalypse happens.Have you read “The Nightingale” yet? That’s another WWII era book I’ve been eyeing.


  2. I also have been eyeing “The Nightingale”. Some of the books I have read are Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller”, “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay and “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand. Those three may not pass the tear test but they were great stories. Let me know if you try “The Nightingale” and I will too. And I will keep an eye out for those zombies so I can get fresh batteries in my radio!


  3. Sounds like an excellent read. I just finished The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (got to like the last name). It’s set in England during World War Two and focuses on children as well. Excellent read for young adults as well as older adults. I’m not yet sure which category I fit.


  4. Looking for a great love story? How about on that features flesh eating sea horses? Sound ridiculous? It’s not! One of my favorite books is Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. Love of family, love between man/woman, love of animals, love of country. An incredible audio as well. If I were to date a book, this one would be one of my top choices. My wife’s a librarian — she’d understand.


  5. Here is another one focused on the inhabitants of a little known corner of the world and their experience during WW2:

    The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society/Annie Barrows

    With characters that you care about.


    P.S. Your husband’s book club sounds interesting. They must be a group of good looking, fun loving, intelligent fellows.


  6. Okay, I am totally going to add this to my book list. Sounds like something that I would definitely like. But, you have to look into Kate Morton. She is an Australian author that sets her stories in the 1930’s but also hops around into the 60’s and present day. I would recommend The Secret Keeper. I am happy to have this blog! Thank you!


    • Thanks, Tom. That does look good. I’ve added it to my amazon list. Has your book club read “The Boys in the Boat” yet? Fantastic story that takes place on the cusp of WWII. I’ll be blogging about it next week.


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