What I’m Reading: All the Light We Cannot See

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

This book was beautiful.  I know that it’s cliche to say but it really was and for good reason.  Books that often use WWII as a back drop for any fictional story have the tendency to be heavy handed, thoroughly depressing and gut wrenching, war is, after all, tragic.  However, Doerr manages to write a book that somehow digs up poignant delight during a unforgettable time in history.

Let me just start off by saying I love how this book is written.  Traditionally, books are written with large chapters and each chapter focuses on several characters at once and maybe even several point of views.  But in this book the chapters are barely 4-5 pages long, some less than a page.  It surprised me but it totally worked.  Instead of trudging thru 20 pages reading about a character you really didn’t care about, you’re skillfully guided between each of main character’s POVs and because of that you are constantly aware of the overall arc of the story and how everything is converging and resolving.  I don’t know if this book could have been written any other way.  It reads almost like diary entries.

The writing in the book is also worth noting.  So many quotes could be pulled from it and the way each character views life and talks about it is frank and poetic.  It’s gorgeous and filled with thought provoking metaphors.  Each life that is impacted feels important. The book isn’t complex or hard to follow, at least in my opinion, but it does have it’s moments where you’re dragging thru mundane details.  If you can get over that you’ll see all the light that everyone is talking about it or maybe not.  That’s the beauty of it though.

“Consider a single piece glowing in your family’s stove. See it, children? That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million. Can you imagine one hundred million years? Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself. Into bark, twigs, stems. Because plants eat light, in much the way we eat food. But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years—eons in which something like a month or a decade or even your whole life was just a puff of air, a snap of two fingers. And eventually the peat dried and became like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you yourself carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight—sunlight one hundred million years old—is heating your home tonight . . .”

I didn’t expect to like this book or even appreciate it, but I did.

There’s only one quarrel I have with it and that is how it ended.  I won’t spoil it for any future readers, but let me just say that I didn’t like how everything just “wrapped up” a little too neatly.  Maybe his editor told him it was getting too long, maybe he got tired of writing and wanted to just end it, either way I didn’t find it very satisfying.  After all the decent writing in the first 3/4’s of the book the final quarter faded into a boring narration and flashforward to present day.  As I turned the last page I simply expected more finality to the ending.  I remember saying aloud, “that’s IT?! This is how it ends?!”  I was disappointed to say the least.

Overall, ending aside, it was a decent book.  Probably not a bookshelf buy for me, but a good summer read none-the-less.


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