Just Another Book Club- July Book

Woo-hoo our first book club discussion! Please leave your comments below or within the right book club post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

51wG7x-S+0L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

Synopsis

Set during World War II, the book tells the parallel stories of two children, Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure LeBlanc. Werner is a clever German boy who is bit of genius when it comes to radio engineering and Marie-Laure is a blind French girl in possession of a valuable jewel. Over 200 chapters we witness their lives before the war, the onset of war, what part they took during the war, how their lives finally connect and events after the war. It is a tale of survival, morals and ultimately love. It’s worth noting that it took American author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write this historical novel.

My Quick Review

All the Light We Cannot See is so beautifully written it actually incites jealousy. I cannot help, but feel envious of the fact that I would never be able to write as well as this. The way Doerr describes scenes is so vivid, the reader has no problem with imagining them. In particular his description of Saint Malo, the house that Marie-Laure lived in and the bombing that took place there, sticks in my mind.

It was very interesting how the books depicts two different families torn apart by war for different reasons. So often books set during wars, tell the story from an adult’s perspective, so it was refreshing seeing how war affected children from both sides.

I recently visited Eden Camp, a Second World War museum inside an actual old prisoner of war camp, in North Yorkshire. It had a whole section on Hitler’s Youth, so I took a couple of (not very good photos) for you all.

IMG_7052

Information on the Hitler Youth

IMG_7055

A member of the Hitler Youth saluting a picture of Hitler

The book is made up of very short chapters. This gives the feel of a fast moving book that keeps you interested and makes you keep on turning the pages.

I can’t decide if I’m satisfied with the ending or not. Werner dies, Marie-Laure never finds her Father and the jewel is lost. However, I also feel this is a reflection on the reality of war. There are obviously so many unhappy endings in war and at least Marie-Laure continues on with a happy life.

Lastly, I want to mention the title of the book. Initially, it would seem to refer to two different things in relation to the two main characters. The more obvious one being Marie-Laure who is blind, whose other senses are heightened because of this. It also could be said that it might refer to the radio waves that we cannot see, but bring much light. This is a reference more so of Werner. However, I think the title also has a third reference, in that during something as hideous as a war, there is still much light. It may not be as obvious and would not dominate the discourse surrounding war as much, but nevertheless it is there. Do you have any other thoughts regarding the title?

As much as I loved this book, the story and the writing, I probably wouldn’t call it a masterpiece as many people are.

Whilst reading it, I could clearly imagine and predict this book will be turned into a film. I can’t see any evidence of it happening yet, but there certainly are rumours.

oU4jkTB5gb4o8fpZhQXyAfzj

Saint Malo today

Questions to Consider

You don’t have to answer these questions in your comments, but they might help to get you thinking about the book or to kickstart the discourse. 

1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?

2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?

3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?

4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?

6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?

7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?

8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?

9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?

10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?

12. When Werner and Marie-Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?

13. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Can you relate to this? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?

14. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

15. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?

Just a reminder that August’s book is “Hotel Alpha” by Mark Watson. I’ll be starting the conversation for that on Monday 4th September.

For a list of all the other books we’ll be reading this year, please click here

46 comments

  1. Phil Taylor · 12 Days Ago

    What?!!? Werner dies? You’ve ruined the ending for me! Ok, just kidding. I can be in a book club because I read to put myself to sleep every night and that lasts 10 minutes at best. It takes me forever to finish a novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • thebeasley · 11 Days Ago

      Ha. You would be no good to us here ha. Though there is no time limit to this book club x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil Taylor · 12 Days Ago

    I meant to say “I can’t be in a book club…”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Becca Barracuda · 12 Days Ago

    What a cool idea! (The book club.) Definitely checking out the other books! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Daphne DuMariner. · 12 Days Ago

    I agree, it is beautifully written and on occasion took my breath away. However at times it felt like that author was holding back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 11 Days Ago

      Yes it did indeed take my breath away at times too. I think I also know what you mean about the author holding back slightly, I think that’s why I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Shallow Reflections · 11 Days Ago

    I almost bought this book during my summer vacation. Your description makes me want to read it. As a writer, the best thing you can do is read writers better than you, so know that you will learn something about writing with every book you ever read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 11 Days Ago

      Oh yes and there’s so much to learn from this writer. I hope you enjoy it, if you read it x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. angelanoelauthor · 11 Days Ago

    Your questions are such excellent ones I’m not sure which to dive into! First, I’ll say literary fiction as a genre is hit or miss for me. I’m a fan of beautiful writing, but writing for the sake of beautiful writing isn’t why I read. I read to fall in love with a story. From that perspective, I thought ALL THE LIGHTS was very effective. I found music in the words, but it wasn’t a crashing crescendo or a rock concert, blasting me with noisy metaphors. Doer picked words that said what he wanted to say beautifully, but he started with having something to say–a story to tell–and that makes a difference to me. In contrast, FATES AND FURIES, also a lauded literary book spent too much time on language and not enough, in my view, on a story that made sense or made me care. ALL THE LIGHTS was a successful story AND gorgeously told. So, I’m a fan.

    I think the choice of the gem as basically a coincidence. A thing that required protection and that survived the war and all that happened to the people, only to be lost and forgotten. As I write this, I wonder if it was a coincidence. . . maybe that, too, has a message. The things we seek to protect and risk our lives for are often just “things” or someone else’s ideals and never really the things that truly matter.

    I also found the movements between the vantage points of both Marie-Laure and Werner to be effective in weaving the story together. As a writer with a novel that uses multiple POV and does a little time flashing back and forth, I didn’t find it distracting to tell a story this way, though I’ve heard others say it can be a challenge for readers. To me, if the author is deliberate about it, then the reader never loses the thread. I never felt lost in the text.

    I found the ending of the book less satisfying. After Werner’s death, which I thought made cosmic sense in the world they were living in, I wish the book had stopped there. It bothered me, as a reader, that Marie-Laure’s father basically disappeared. I’m sure it bothered her more! But again, this is what likely could have happened had these characters existed. I found that effective, though I didn’t like it–I don’t think we’re supposed to. I didn’t like the flash forward on Marie-Laure’s life. I’m not sure why it was necessary. I thought it went on too long, and offered too much detail. I think one year into the future could have wrapped the novel up and opened up more of a conversation with readers on what might be her future, and how will the events of this time shape her? I’d say that was the one, truly disappointing thing about the book for me.

    Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others as an eloquent and provocative view into two sides of a conflict we all think we know, but can’t really ever understand.

    P.S. I love your book club.

    Liked by 2 people

    • fattymccupcakes · 11 Days Ago

      I agree that the book went on too long as it fast-forwarded into Marie-Laure and Jutta’s adult life. It was weird to hear from Jutta’s POV when she wasn’t a major, or even integral character. I was kind of sad to read that Marie-Laure only had two lovers (and no husband or life-long partner). Her life was so sad, especially never finding her father. That part killed me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • angelanoelauthor · 11 Days Ago

        You know, it didn’t occur to me to think Jutta’s POV was weird, but now that you mention it, it did seem both sad and disjointed. Did you think she added anything to Werner’s story or just more context of what happened during the war?

        Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

        I suppose (and sorry I know this question was directed at Katie), she was part of the illustration that war tears families apart, so I guess she did add something, but perhaps not enough for me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • fattymccupcakes · 10 Days Ago

        You know, I didn’t get her. I mean, I get why she felt self-conscious being German, but the way she thought/felt about everything was so weird. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but didn’t she seem not very into really wanting to know what happened to her brother? Maybe she was still angry with him for leaving and for supporting the Nazis in the war?

        Liked by 2 people

      • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

        Yeah she did seem to get over him. Or maybe she was so damaged about what happened to her during the war, her feelings were numbed somewhat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • fattymccupcakes · 10 Days Ago

        That’s a definite possibility. I’m sure she suffered a lot in his absence and in knowing who he was helping.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

        Oh yeah, I found it really weird suddenly getting Jutta’s POV. I guess it was because there was no more Werner and she represented him, but I don’t think it worked exactly.

        Liked by 1 person

      • fattymccupcakes · 10 Days Ago

        Agreed.

        Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

      Thank you so much for in-depth review Angela! This is fantastic.
      First of all, I can’t take credit for the questions. I found them on several websites. They seem to be general book club that accompany the book.
      I agree that so often authors can concentrate too much on the words and descriptions without giving us much of a story.
      I think the gem could be seen as a metaphor for Marie-Laure herself maybe? Fragile and something that needs to be taken care of and at the moment she loses the gem, it is when she no longer needs that protection from the war. She ultimately takes care of herself anyway and proves herself to be non-fragile. I think this relates maybe to Laura Hopton’s option on the gem, in that- is this storyline actually necessary?
      Yes, am glad you’re not entirely happy with the ending either. I wish we’d been given something. Even if she never saw her Father again, to at least find out what happened to him would’ve have rewarded the reader somewhat.

      P.S. Thank you! I LOVE having you as part of the book club xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • angelanoelauthor · 10 Days Ago

        Oh, gosh! I had never thought of the gem as metaphor for Marie-Laure’s journey. That’s a very interesting perspective. Now the you mention it, ML’s desire to protect the gem all came from outside influences. When she throws it away, it’s all her–making her own decisions and deciding what it’s worth to her. Love that perspective!
        I continue to wonder about Werner. He’s such a tragic character, so close to breaking free.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Laura Hopton · 11 Days Ago

    I read this book a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it – I’ve been recommending it to people ever since. Thinking about it again though has made me realise that actually it does have quite a lot of flaws too, and I probably agree that it isn’t quite the masterpiece that it’s billed as.
    What I loved about it at first, is the way that, because it moves back and forth through time your attention is gripped right from the start and the tension doesn’t really let up – they are both in St Malo, everyone else with any sense has left, the bombers are coming – what will happen! Even as we are filled in on the back story of the two main characters we switch back to seeing them in peril of various kinds, and this made the book really unputdownable for me.
    I also seem to read a lot of books about WWII (not sure why!) and I enjoyed the fact that this was a slightly different take on a story which is so familiar in many ways from other books, films and tv. In particular, it touched on an aspect of the war which I think isn’t really explored often enough in popular culture – why did so many people in Nazi Germany go along with the regime and participate in the many atrocities carried out in its name? We’re so used to seeing wartime Germans portrayed either as cartoonishly evil (think Indiana Jones) or heroic resistors (The Book Thief) but we rarely see the story of the vast majority of people, who didn’t consciously set out to cause harm, but were seduced by the propaganda of the regime and ended up believing, at least for a while, in the glorious future which they were promised. We get a glimpse of this through Werner’s story, as he is offered the chance to escape his bleak childhood home and attend an exclusive boarding school – at first he is absolutely delighted, and it’s only after a while that the darkness behind it all becomes clear to him. We also see the really powerful impact of radio, bringing music and joy into dismal lives, with a heavy sprinkling of propaganda which is absorbed unthinkingly by the listeners.
    For me though, this exploration of why ordinary Germans did what they did falls short and a fascinating story remains untold. Werner is always an outsider, never a real Nazi (even when he’s travelling Europe exterminating resistance fighters). On reflection I think I would have found the story of someone a bit more ordinary even more interesting (although I’m sure it would be pretty grim…) I also think that Marie-Laure’s experiences with the French Resistance are pretty cliched – baguettes and code words. Again, I think there is so much more which could be told about the experiences of ordinary French people under occupation, and the compromises which people had to make to survive.

    The plotline about the diamond didn’t really work for me – was it suppose to symbolise something? If so, it passed me by. It felt to me more as if the writer wanted to set a whimsical, almost magic-realist tale during the war – although it didn’t quite deliver on that front either, as we never really found out if Marie-Laure had the ‘real’ diamond or not, or if it was cursed. I worked out in the first few pages that the diamond would end up in the sea, but I didn’t really see the point when it happened – or why Werner went back for the house….

    To end on a positive though, what I did love was the flash-forward at the end. Clearly this didn’t work for everyone, but for me this was the most powerful part of the book. As I’ve said, I’ve read plenty of books about WWII, but I’ve never really considered what happened to the characters after 1945. I had never really quite contemplated the fact that, until relatively recently, Europe was full of people who had lived through horrific things in their own countries, and then had to pick themselves up afterwards and try to live normal lives. We are so used to depictions of the war in Britain, but it must have been a very different experience to continue living in your home town or country as a French or German person who had seen it occupied, or bombed to smithereens, or both. My own Grandparents came to the UK as refugees from Poland after the war, and although they were offered the chance to move back ‘home’ in the 50s they didn’t take it. I always thought that this was simply because they didn’t like the communist regime, but I wonder if there was also a big element of their just not feeling able to go back to a place where so many terrible things had happened to them and their families. The fact that so many people had no alternative and just had to keep on living in Europe really made me think – and it certainly puts Brexit and the impact which that might have on the rest of the EU in an even more depressing light than usual!
    So on reflection, I’ll keep on recommending this to people, but will be interested to hear what they think about all of the above!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

      Welcome Laura! SO nice to have you on board!
      Yes I absolutely agree that this book has that “unputdownable” quality.
      I think your point about the depiction of Nazi Germany is a really important one. You’re quite right that in WWII culture the Nazis are either seen as evil or resistant heroes. To see that things weren’t quite as black & white as that was refreshing and incredibly interesting.
      Ha and yes agree the French resistance was all a bit cliched. Weirdly, I didn’t think it at the time of reading, but on reflection I do now.
      Definitely agree, about the jewel storyline. It was my least favourite part and thought the story would’ve been just as strong without it. It wasn’t clear what the author was trying to do with it. Angela Noel has touched on the jewel storyline too & I did in my response to her too.
      Thanks for sharing your story about your Grandparents. I think that’s really interesting. Also, the other day I was having a conversation with my Dad about evacuees who decided to stay in the towns they were evacuated to, instead of returning to London (Wallingford got plenty of evacuees staying there & their families left London and joined them). It’s really interesting how this war changed so much, for so many people, in often very drastic ways.
      Thanks so much for your AWESOME input. Hope you join in for the other books too xx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. fattymccupcakes · 11 Days Ago

    I’ve been anxiously awaiting this blog post. You describe the book in the exact same light I would. I can’t recall any other author I’ve ever read who describes feelings, places, and events the way Doerr does. His writing was so beautiful, it hurt. I could taste and see and feel every word.

    I get what you mean about feeling jealous as a writer, because I feel the same way. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write as vividly as he does.

    I enjoyed reading Marie-Laure’s story more than Werner’s. I didn’t really like Werner. I get that it was too dangerous to help Frederick in any way, but, damn. He did NOTHING. It was painful to read how he never once stepped up to do the right thing. Yes, he finally “redeemed” himself by helping Marie-Laure, but I didn’t really feel any emotion when he died.

    It KILLED me that Marie-Laure never found her loving, patient, and devoted father. I think he was my favorite character, along with Etienne and Madame Manec. But, you’re right, it painted a very accurate picture of what really happened during the war.

    I don’t think I actually answered any of your posted questions-oops.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

      Ha don’t worry. They’re only there as prompts.
      I definitely enjoyed reading Marie-Laure’s story more than Werner’s too. Not only was his more disturbing, but I definitely felt a lot less affection for him than Marie-Laure.
      Yep, I really think we should have found out at the very least what happened to Marie-Laure’s Father. I felt there was very little reward for the reader at the end of the book.
      Oh yes I also loved her Father, Etienne & Madame Manac. They were definitely the best characters.
      Thank you sooooo much for joining in. Hopefully, see you next time? xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • fattymccupcakes · 10 Days Ago

        I’m going to try to read the next one (which one is it, btw?), but with school starting, I don’t have as much free time to read 😩😩.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 10 Days Ago

        Ah yes busy time for you. No pressure at all love (it’s Hotel Alpha by Mark Watson- set in London) x

        Liked by 1 person

      • fattymccupcakes · 10 Days Ago

        Ooh! I’ll check it out!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Debbie Harris · 10 Days Ago

    I really enjoyed this book at the time and thought the writing was excellent. The descriptions and story line captured me. I write this post at the time and share it with you as my comment if that’s ok. https://debs-world.com/2016/11/11/fridaybookshare-all-the-light-we-cannot-see/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. fancypaperblog · 6 Days Ago

    I took a few attempts to get into it but when I did, I chewed it up. Loved the kids and the insight to Nazi youth even though am haunted by the story of Worker’s friend x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. wedincentralpark · 6 Days Ago

    I read this book because it was on many people’s lists of best historical fiction of the year and also best fiction of the year. I found it a struggle to get through, and if it had not been on all these lists then I would have given up after the first few chapters, but I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t.

    The story starts very slowly and then does not pick up much pace as we go along. It is World War II standard stuff. We have a poor little French girl, some loving, older French resistance folk, a reluctant German soldier (orphaned) with a sister he cares for, a handful of evil Nazis and something that they are searching for. OK, the French girl is blind, but that really is not enough to set this book apart from any other about World War II in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      Thanks Claire (and I mean that sincerely). I’m always a bit bereft when I’ve spent so long reading a book in the hope it’ll get better for me & it doesn’t. I always think “I could’ve spent my time reading something so much better”. Sorry you didn’t like it. It definitely wasn’t the outstanding novel that people have claimed, but I did also get a lot out of it. Hope to see you again in the book club at some point? X

      Like

  12. Unbound Roots · 6 Days Ago

    Hmmm… I have this book, but now am wondering if I should spend the time reading it. There are so many great books out there that I can’t wait to read. Well, I appreciate your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      I’d say overall it’s worth it. It is a good book & know so many people that are completely in love with it. You could give it a try. You’re right though, there’s soooo many good books out there x

      Liked by 1 person

  13. You Can Always Start Now · 6 Days Ago

    I read the book years ago and still remember it because of the title. Parts made me cry and the ending was what it was during war. Some make it and others don’t. Sitting here now I can remember the parts of Marie listening to the radio broadcast. Werner’s story with the other recruits and good people put in bad situations and being swept away. Doesn’t that still happen now sadly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

      Yes, very sadly it does and I think we’re witnessing that across the world now. So very sad. Thank you x

      Like

  14. Lisa Orchard · 6 Days Ago

    I loved this book! I’m a big WWII fiction fan. I loved “The Book Theif,” too. I want to read this one over again because I thought it was that good. Other WWII books you might want to consider are “The Nightengale,” “Salt to the Sea,” and “Between Shades of Gray.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Gabe Burkhardt · 6 Days Ago

    I first read this novel about a year ago. Loved it. And the imprint left on me that still lingers more than a year later is the beauty we find even in the midst of tragedy, the blindness we bring upon ourselves in an attempt to hide, and the fear we cannot rise above, all makes life – no matter how barbaric – is still worth living.
    But having read your provoking questions, I realize I need to return to the text as too much of the detail has faded. And this really is a novel worth re-reading. So I may return for a more carefully crafted comment in the not-too distant future.
    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

      There’s so much to think about, isn’t there? Yes the blindness is like some kind of self-preservation or protection. But it does it protect us really? Thanks Gabe.

      Like

  16. emfletche · 6 Days Ago

    I read this book and enjoyed it, but unfortunately I’m a bit flighty with books and forget about the story as soon as the next comes along (which is why I would be a terrible book club member). In a similar vein I recently read Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and this one has stayed with me a little more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

      Oh that looks really good. I’ve added it to my ever increasing list of books to read!

      Like

  17. Pingback: Sharing the Good: It's not You, It's Me | You are Awesome

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s