Saturday, 8 July 2017

All the Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr

The further we move away from 1945, the easier it seems to view the horror of WWII from new perspectives.  Has it taken all this time for the world to consider the German side of the experience? It certainly seems that we have come a long way since the Leon Uris books of my youth, and those classic war films where every German was a villain, every liberator a hero. Well, Anthony Doerr certainly faces this stereotype head on in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'All The Light We Cannot See'. We are presented with a young, blind, French girl, Marie-Laure LeBlanc - enchanting, perceptive and oh so vulnerable. Just as vulnerable is Werner Pfennig, a young German boy - clever, dutiful and brave. Both children suffer greatly because of the war; parents are lost as are homes, possessions and childhoods.  The whole movement of the book is based around their coming together - step by step, a gentle, inevitable progression.  And the novel seems to come down to this moment- their meeting - and on what the next generation have to say to each other, when the adults have made such a mess of things.
In truth, their meeting is crucial: if it goes badly, it'd spell curtains for future peace.  Luckily it is a success.  Is not this the most hopeful of moments?  Doesn't it foretell the inception of the European Union years later? That France and Germany can be such forgiving neighbours in 2017 - after twice facing each other down the barrel of a gun - still surprises me,  yet in Doerr's book, it all seems possible.  There are incredibly brutal acts perpetrated on both sides, and this book contains some of the most horrific I have ever read.  The suffering of German women on the arrival of the Russian troops, as described by Doerr, will haunt me forever.  He shirks from nothing - presenting us with the horror of war - experienced on all sides - because these stories must be told.
But this is just a story after all - and Doerr is a master teller of tales.  Page upon page of vibrant imagery, beautiful language and characters so real that they must have lived once... make this book one that will keep you just where Doerr wants you, while he re-programmes your mind and shines a light on the truth about WWII.  And it suddenly seems to me that Marie-Laure's is not the only blindness at the heart of this novel.  And if there is light - the light the we cannot see - well perhaps now is the time to face that light, that kindness, that hope... because after all... 1945 was such a long time ago.

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