Book on WW2 a rewarding read

March 09, 2018

Anthony Doerr’s ‘‘All the Light We Cannot See’’ won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014.

All the Light We Cannot See: by Anthony Doerr

This is a big book in more senses than one. For starters, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014.

At more than 500 pages, it is a big read. And moreover it is a big subject. In fact two of them, one covering the life of a young German boy, and the other the story of an equally young and blind French girl. It is written in an unusual format of short, alternating chapters.

It is set in Germany and France during World War II, covering the atrocities inflicted on and by the movement known as Hitler Youth, the role of radio, relatively primitive though it was during the war, and alternating with the desperate escape from the Nazi invasion of Paris by the French girl and her father. Unknown to her, they are part of a covert mission.

Radio technology, at which the German boy is an intuitive genius, was vitally important on both sides of the war, overtly as a means of relaying information for the combatants, and covertly as an underground method for informing civilians in Nazi-occupied areas of news the Germans did not want them to have. Anyone caught relaying such information was summarily killed, or tortured before disappearing forever.

The threat of starvation eventually became a huge issue for both sides.

Inexorably the author brings the boy and girl closer and closer, until at last they meet under dire circumstances.

What happens to all the characters in the post-war years is yet another chapter in which the author ties the stories of each of the players into a neat resolution.

My friend Anne, a voracious reader of many years, classifies this book as the best novel she has ever read. Apart from a few ill-fitting, modern American idioms, it’s a well-deserved accolade.

— Lee Stephenson

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