How are you with puzzles? I'm all for word play and riddles but jigsaws leave me cold. Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See, whilst being a joy to read, must have been a real doozy to write. The fact it took him 10 years from idea to completion would certainly suggest so. The reason why I raise the puzzle idea is that the narrative jumps back and forth between the two protagonists; an impoverished young German orphan named Werner Pfennig growing up in a future-less mining town in the north west of the country and a young French girl who becomes blind at the age of 6 but thankfully has an academic father who works at the National Museum of Paris and stimulates her mind with models and countless books written in braille. The depth of character is out of this world! Supposedly some paragraphs took over 30 hours of research to write! Even if it hadn't won the Pulitzer for fiction that sort of effort demands some kind of life-time achievement award.
In short, the book is a masterpiece.
There would be few events more written about than World War II but this book miraculously achieves something new, largely thanks to the nuances of those who drive the story forward. Sympathy for a Nazi? You can decide for yourself but questions of morality, good and evil, are scattered all through this gem.
The spark for the story came from a chance observation on the subway in New York when Doerr listened on as a man complained profusely at the terrible reception he was getting on his phone. The irony of being 10s of metres underground and being frustrated at the lack of reception was not lost on Doerr, who began to wonder about the magic of things like radio frequencies and hearing a voice over the phone or radio and how much of this light we couldn't see.
Despite Werner's childhood town of Zollverein, just outside Essen in Germany, housing what is non-ironically referred to as the most beautiful coal mine in the world, designed in the Bauhaus style would you believe? The real star of the novel is Saint Malo, a coastal fairytale of a town in north west France. Its sizeable ramparts and unmistakably French houses that rest beside the sea make it the sort of place you would want to flee to, even without a war on at home. The place was blown to bits by the Allies, which you can read more about in the book, but incredibly, the formidable Malouins pieced it back together, so its still got that ancient feel to it.
Now, if the sound of a romantic sea side town and a Pulitzer prize winning novel isn't getting you hot under the collar, shame on you. Never fear though, a little word to the wise, Saint Malo is in the region of Brittany. So what? I hear you say. So, Brittany is wave stacked and the only time you'll catch a crowd here is during the peak of summer in August. Don't be a sheep. Rather than sit whining in a congested line-up in Capbreton, set your compass due north and see the light.!
“To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.”