A Book Review
"What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models. Mazes in the nodules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles. None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes."
I lifted this quote from page 453 of Anthony Doerr's 2014 novel, All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. If you haven't read it, and if you enjoy good novels, let me urge this one as your next choice, and I invite you to get back to me in the comments section when you've done so. If you have already read it, please jump into the comments section right away.
I need to explain, perhaps, my enthusiasm for this book. Probably it is partly because I don't read as much fiction as most people --I prefer science and math and history and philosophy. So when I do read good fiction, I get a special unexpected pleasure for having found truth (at least literary truth) in an unexpected way.
Then again, it is partly because most of the story action occurs in St. Malo, France, during the 1940s. It was my interest in understanding the immense conflict of World War II that led me to a lifelong interest in history, literature, and more.
And it is also partly because this book was loaned to me by a friend, on the chance that I would like it. (Thank you, Ralph.) Which brings me to thinking of my book-reading friends, and how much I have gained by following some of their tastes, recommendations, and gifts of books. I won't go into any detail here, but I think I ought to devote a post or two to this matter. Anyway, back to the book.
All the Light We Cannot See. Can we see, or imagine, why the author chose such a title? Is it because one of the characters is a blind teen-aged girl living in St. Malo at the time of its siege in 1944? Well, yes. But the story is about much more than that. Most of the characters, after all, have ordinary vision. Or not ordinary -- they have a vision that is enhanced, or blurred, or altered, by the war.
Moving back and forth across Europe, and back and forth across the war years, the author tightens the threads of the story with craft, confidence, and cohesion. Writing in the present tense, he combines rich, detailed descriptions with textured perceptions of sight and sound and smell and contact, which wrap around personal actions and motivations and the author's own psychical insights. He draws you in. All of which makes this novel more valuable than several -- many? any? -- mere military histories.
Get this book. Read it. See what you make of it.