Author; Anthony Doerr (American)
Genre; Historical Fiction
Publisher/Year of 1st Publication: Scribner. May 6th 2014
Number of Pages; 531 (my paperback copy)
Prizes won; The Pulitzer prize for fiction 2015 and Andrew Carnegie medal for excellence in Fiction (2015)
Other Titles; The shell collector, Four Seasons in Rome.
This book has been my most tedious one to read the whole year. And while I have to give the author big kudos for such immense, extra ordinary work he put into setting the historical nature of the book, I must say it left me more eager to finish already than deeply attached to the characters. Doerr does quite an incredible job with the mood, language and general texture of the period it was set in, 1934, World War II era. It’s one thing to be able to imagine a future based on what you currently see. It’s another though to imagine based on a time you were never even remotely part of.
It is a story of the coming of age of two teenagers on opposite sides of the war. Marie-Laure, blind at age 6, whose father builds her a wooden replica of their Paris neighbourhood to teach her the way home and Werner, a German orphan whose talent brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth Academy. Their stories collide at some point, briefly.
It describes a delicate father-daughter relationship through actions like when the father paintstakingly builds a replica of their neighbourhood twice, the braille books he buys her each birthday and the puzzle that she has to crack often which will later be a useful skill,- rather than through any major discussion.
Full of imagination from both key characters, it is interesting to know that for blind Marie-Laure, life actually happens in colours even her dreams.
Many times through the book, we get a sense of an obstructing wall or a tree branch or a door hinge through bright colours.
There is a major hint of magical realism to this novel which is another reason why it wasn’t an easy read for me. I am no fan of magical realism. Marie-Luare’s father is the man in charge of the keys to the Musuem of Natural History wherein lies a presumably valuable /mythical stone called the sea of flames.
The story of each one of them and their supporting characters flips back and forth different time frames every chapter which makes it a little more herculean to read but they are short and tastefully worded chapters mostly in present tense. Doerr writes some of the most poetic short sentences I have read yet.
“Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food”
to describe hunger.
The entire book is full of such carefully constructed sentences.
The characters are so complex you literally have to wait till the end to undo them. Again this may be why it was tedious to read because you are literally waiting… and waiting… and waiting.
I cannot get over how beautiful the writing is though. Many times, I said sentences out loud just so I could experience partly the beauty of them, so the vivid descriptions could come alive. I literally smelt the smoke when he described it or the water on my skin when he described the rising and crashing of the ocean but it wasn’t the same for me with the story itself or the characters. I didn’t carry them in my mind when I closed the book to do something else.
If you look closely at the photos you would notice scratches on the spine and dog eared pages, proof of how long I struggled to finish. It is a good book just not my type of book to enjoy.
If historical fiction is your thing or you just love history, you should definitely read this, I mean the book didn’t win the pulitzer for nothing.
One last credit for Anthony Doerr, the extra extra work I am willing to put into an art I’m currently working on is credited to the inspiration I got from reading the sheer hard work and dedication that is vividly obvious in all the pages of All The Light We Cannot See.