All The Light We Cannot See is a tale of two teenagers on the opposite sides of war and how events eventually bring them together to help them save each other and to touch each other’s lives in unexpected ways. Marie-Laure is a blind girl living with her father in Paris and Werner is a young German boy living in a mining village who comes to the attention of the Hitler Youth.
I loved it. The fascination of the the various characters thrown into a war environment, where nobody who hasn’t experienced it firsthand, can understand the pressures of trying to stay true to one’s innocence and goodness. Perfectly good people were forced through loyalty, patriotism and fear into doing awful things or, more so in Werner’s case, for remaining passive not going to the aid of his friend, Frederick, who shone like a perfect light throughout remaining true to himself, but at what physical cost.
Werner was a very good person but, on the other hand, did not go to protect Frederick and he had to live the rest of his life knowing what he had failed to do and reliving his disgrace in every innocent he witnessed being killed, eg the little girl in the red coat and her Mother.
Werner was motivated by the fear of ending up down a mine and being killed like his father and would do anything to get away from that fate. His yearning for more and his scientific bent gave him the opportunity to “escape” and join The Hitler Youth where he had to grapple with his conscience, his opposing fear of returning to the mines or even a fate like injury or death. He was not alone in this as The Big Giant was exactly the same: basically good but, to save his own life, he was willing to rip the clothes and shoes from people to keep himself warm, knowing that he was signing their death warrant in doing so.
It seems, some time after leading Marie Laure to safety, Werner found the Sea of Flames but rejected it, tossing it back into the sea. It was like someone throwing 5 Eiffel Towers back and nobody in their right mind would do that, so the young schoolboy said when told the story at the Museum. Why? Do you think Werner walked knowingly to his death on the beach of minefields, knowing he was recovering physically, but mentally not being able to live with himself, never being able to go back to the 2 people who personified goodness and righteousness? His sister, Jutta, whom he remembered as so black and white where right and wrong was concerned and would condemn his passive acceptance of evil. And the innocent and trusting Marie Laure, who rekindled memories of a past enmeshed in her family when he was awakened to the joys of learning and the quest for truth that he searched for in scientific principles, listening with Jutta to his first radio and hearing the voice of Marie Laure’s grandfather making learning fun.
Good against evil and the sad but warm feeling at the end that good had triumphed even though the cost was immense.
I would give this book 4.5 as it was so beautifully scripted, the language perfectly descriptive allowing me to picture each place/situation in my mind’s eye.