Sunday, 8 February 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Author: Anthony Doerr
HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/
4th Estate/The Friday Project

Loads have been written about World War II, from many different angles. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a lovely account from the view of two children; one French and one German. A mystery is woven into the story by the Sea of Flame, a mythical diamond.

The story is set over a ten year period from 1934-1944, continuing with the end of the war and ending with events in 1974 and 2014. It is a wonderful story of how the world changes the lives of two children when war is knocking on the door.

Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are growing up in an orphanage in Zollverein, a coal-mining complex outside Essen. Most people work for the mine and so did their father, who died in one of the many mining accidents.  The only prospect for Werner is to work there himself, which gives him nightmares. One day he finds a broken radio, takes it home and manage to repair it. As the years go by, he becomes an expert on electronic devices and are recruited by the Nazis, as rather young, to a school specialising in talented pupils in various areas. He is happy for this opportunity to do something else than mining, but as the years go by and the war starts, he sees how things develop in a way he does not like. By then it is too late to go back.

The Sea of Flame is a mythical diamond in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. It is hidden behind thirteen doors, one smaller than the other. The story is, that it was found by a prince in Borneo, and with the stone in his hand, he survived a deadly blow. However, the longer the prince had the stone, the more bad things happened around him.

“The prince called together his father’s advisers. All said he should prepare for war, all but one, a priest, who said he’d had a dream. In the dream the Goddess of the Earth told him she’d made the Sea of Flames as a gift for her lover, the God of the Sea, and was sending the jewel to him through the river. But when the river dried up, and the prince plucked it out, the goddess became enraged. She cursed the stone and whoever kept it.”

When the Germans occupy France, the head of the museum sends three of this employees out of Paris with either a copy of the stone or the real one. Nobody knows, except the director, who has the real stone. Mr Le Blanc is one of these people.


Marie-Laure Le Blanc, whose mother died giving birth to her, lives with her father in Paris. He is the
principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History, and as such in charge of all the keys to all locks in the museum. When Marie-Laure, together with other children, hears the story of the stone, she does not really believe it. One month later she is blind. To help her manage on her own, outside the house, her father builds a model of the area where they live in, with all the streets, houses etc. When she has learned from the model where everything is, her father takes her out into the streets. They have to flee Paris when the Germans come, and they go to relatives in Saint-Malo. Here the father builds her another model of the old city where they are staying.

With the occupation comes Mr von Rumpel, an expert on precious stones. He is dying of a tumour and is looking for the stone who can give him his life back. He tracks down the three emissaries and finally finds out who has the real stone.

The stories of Werner and Marie-Laure continues in flash backs through the years until they both end up in Saint-Malo on the French north-west coast. While reading I was questioning the flash backs. Why not just tell the story in chronological order? However, after ending the book, I realise that it makes the whole story more exciting, and when you catch up, there is always something that was not told earlier, so you are constantly taken on to new roads and developments.


This is a very well written book, with sensitive story telling, and a big eye for details and children’s thoughts. Although the stories we hear are terrible it never gets sentimental, not even in the end. It is beautifully written and wonderfully told with a dosis of thrill as well. This book will come down as one of my favourites. It also makes me curious on Anthony Doerr’s other books.

Thank you to HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project for giving me a review copy.

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