Reviews

for Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot Seeallthelight

★ Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction ★

★ Winner of the 2015 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction ★

★ Finalist for the 2014 National Book Award ★

★ #1 New York Times Bestseller ★

★ Winner of the Indies Choice Book Award from the American Booksellers Association ★

★ Winner of the GoodReads Choice Award for Historical Fiction ★

★ Named One of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review ★

★ Winner of the 2015 Australian International Book Award ★

★ The Hudson Booksellers 2014 Book of the Year ★

★ Named best novel of 2014 by Apple’s iBooks ★

★ #2 on Amazon’s Best 100 Books of 2014 ★

★ 2015 Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner ★

★ Winner of an Alex Award from the American Library Association ★

★ 2014 Top of the List Winner for Adult Fiction at BookList ★

★ A LibraryReads Best Book of 2014 ★

★ Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Award for Fiction ★

★ The President’s Pick at Books-A-Million ★

★ Indigo The Best of 2014 ★

★ Audible.com’s Best Fiction Audiobook of 2014 ★

★ Voted Best Novel of 2014 at BookPage ★

★ #1 on the Top 10 Books of 2014 at BookWorld Australia ★

★ A best book of 2014 at Powell’sBarnes & Noble, NPR’s Fresh AirEntertainment Weekly, the Daily BeastSlate.com, San Francisco Chronicle, The WeekChristian Science Monitorthe Washington Post, the Seattle Times, the Oregonian, the Vancouver Sunthe Guardian, AbeBooksKirkus, and more ★

★ Starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal ★

 

Washington Post

“I’m not sure I will read a better novel this year than Anthony ­Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Enthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears, it is completely unsentimental — no mean trick when you consider that Doerr’s two protagonists are children who have been engulfed in the horror of World War II.”

The New York Times

“Boy meets girl in Anthony Doerr’s hauntingly beautiful new book, but the circumstances are as elegantly circuitous as they can be.”

Seattle Times

“Stupendous… All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel, and I fervently hope I don’t have to wait a decade for Doerr to produce another.”

The Boston Globe

“Remarkable… The neat symmetry of Marie-Laure and Werner’s childhoods — one spent in darkness, the other exploring sound — would seem too obvious a mirror in another writer’s hands. Doerr, however, has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Each two- to four-page chapter offers a sharply etched glimpse into character and circumstance. As a result, the radiant beauty of the prose – and it is gorgeous – never makes us pause too long. The story’s headlong action propels us ever onward. …On this stage, at once vast and intimate, Doerr works his magic on the great themes of destiny versus choice, entrapment versus liberation, atrocity versus honor. In “About Grace,” Doerr’s narrator observed that ‘the things we see are only masks for the things we cannot see.’ This new novel imagines the unseen grace, the unseen light that, occasionally, surprisingly, breaks to the surface even in the worst of times.”

The Oregonian

“The written equivalent of a Botticelli painting or a Michelangelo sculpture. . . Nothing short of brilliant, All the Light We Cannot See gives off the kind of mesmerizing and legend-making light as that of the mysterious diamond that sits in the center of the story.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Doerr’s not-to-be-missed tale is a testament to the buoyancy of our dreams, carrying us into the light through the darkest nights.” EW Grade: A

Christian Science Monitor

“…His best work to date. This is a novel in which canned peaches, John James Audubon, Jules Verne, sea snails, and Debussy have more value than a polished hunk of compressed carbon. It is a calculus both inarguable and deeply moral.”

The New Yorker

“…Gripping… As the strands of the plot converge, the book becomes a meditation on fate, free will, and the way that, in wartime, small choices can have vast consequences.”

O Magazine

“Mellifluous and unhurried, All the Light We Cannot See surprises until the last pages with its pleasures large and small: wooden puzzle boxes shaped like houses, a Braille copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, characters as noble as they are enthralling. Doerr looms myriad strands into a luminous work of strife and transcendence.”

Vancouver Sun

All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful novel — made up of a compelling story that rushes to its inevitable conclusion, a cast of characters who are impossible not to love and admire, and a style of writing that is both poetic but straight to the point.”

Bookreporter.com

“A revelation… All the Light We Cannot See consists of short chapters, most of them fewer than five pages, the collective impact of which is devastating as Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories converge. …The greatest achievement of this book is that, unlike many similar works, Doerr emphasizes his protagonists’ capacity for kindness. Of all the brightnesses we can’t or don’t allow ourselves to see, the capacity for goodness in the face of evil is the brightest of all.”

USA Today

“Few authors can so gently — yet resolutely — pull readers into such deep understanding of and connection with their characters. Each and every person in this finely spun assemblage is distinct and true. All, even the most heroic and likable, are flawed in some way, as real people are (and people in novels often are not). Most are utterly unforgettable, long after the last page has been turned.”

Los Angeles Times

“…Once he hits his stride, Anthony Doerr takes these loud parts and builds a beautiful, expansive tale, woven with thoughtful reflections on the meaning of life, the universe and everything.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Every sentence is an act of compassion. There’s not a fuzzy or lagging moment in the 500-plus pages. Like the title, Doerr’s prose is an unseen force that, over and over, will nudge you to the edge of your chair and leave you breathless. This is a beautiful book, an astounding meditation on the paradoxes of fate, human relationships and nature.”

Daily Mail (UK)

“It’s far more than a conventional war story. It’s a tightly focused epic revolving around two unusual main characters… Doerr paints with a rich palette, using prose that resonates deeply and conveys the ephemera of daily existence along with high drama, sadness and hope. As the war destroys their respective worlds and the lives of those around them, Marie and Werner’s separate paths finally converge… This is a bittersweet and moving novel that lingers in the mind.”

Intelligent Life (The Economist)

“As he writes at his desk in Boise, Idaho, Anthony Doerr wears ear defenders, blocking out external noise, and it’s almost as if he has tuned into some beautiful private frequency.”

People Magazine

“History intertwines with irresistible fiction—secret radio broadcasts, a cursed diamond, a soldier’s deepest doubts—into a richly compelling, bittersweet package.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Doerr reworks the commonplace into the fabulous. So vivid does Marie-Laure’s world become, it’s sometimes difficult to switch back to Werner’s sighted one. This is a book about locks and keys, light and darkness, the power of connection and the paradoxes most humans are. It brims with scrupulous reverence for all forms of life. The invisible light of the title shines long after the last page.”

America

“These children are marvelously described. They come immediately to life, and we share their dreams, disappointments and struggles to survive and thrive. By the time some of them are remembering their youth, we are remembering it with them, in vivid detail that can be both pleasurable and excruciating. That the young grow old is both a joy and a sadness, we all know, but when we can, through a book, experience that journey, similar to yet profoundly different from our own, we have enlarged our world.”

Paste Magazine

All the Light We Cannot See explores topics of light, darkness, heroism, sacrifice, courage, hope, life and death—but it does so quietly, never hitting you over the head with the themes. Perhaps most refreshing is that Doerr doesn’t try to make Marie-Laure and Werner into heroes or universal symbols of shattered innocence; they’re just kids, wrapped up in the chaos of war, and trying to survive. It’s that authenticity that really, well, lights up All the Light We Cannot See.”

The Barnes & Noble Review

All the Light We Cannot See never loses its artistic way. Anyone who has read Doerr’s previous books — the short story volumes The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome — already knows that the man is a prodigiously gifted writer. Anyone who discovers the author through this newest book will realize it soon enough.”

Vanity Fair

“Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

“Against the backdrop of history’s annihilating shockwaves, light is humanity’s trope in Doerr’s most recent novel, All The Light We Cannot See. Sentences shimmer with poetry and meaning, paragraphs are luminous with bright, sparkling beauty; here is light in a thousand crystalline iterations.”

Malta Today

“All the Light We Cannot See is a perfect novel. It is extremely difficult to find any singular flaw with it. Clever without being patronising, simple yet distinctive, stylish and with tons of substance. This is one book that has to be read and will resonate with the reader for days.”

Missoula Independent

“Doerr has written a modern classic about goodness in the shadow of evil and the beauty that can be wrought by people fighting simply for a chance to thrive.”

Kansas City Star

“The challenge for a writer in 2014 is, of course, how to make the story fresh without repeating what readers today have seen in countless films, TV shows, books and history classes at school. And this is where Doerr’s book really stands out.”

Shelf Awareness

“…An intricate miracle of invention, narrative verve, and deep research lightly held, but above all a miracle of humanity… Anthony Doerr’s novel celebrates–and also accomplishes–what only the finest art can: the power to create, reveal, and augment experience in all its horror and wonder, heartbreak and rapture.”

BBC

“Intricately structured… All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art and of preservation.”

Booklist (starred)

  “A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall—and long—­narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Laure is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Laure’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers. A multipronged marketing campaign will make the author’s many fans aware of his newest book, and extensive review coverage is bound to enlist many new fans.”

Library Journal (starred)

  “Shifting among multiple viewpoints but focusing mostly on blind French teenager Marie-Laure and Werner, a brilliant German soldier just a few years older than she, this novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece. The main protagonists are brave, sensitive, and intellectually curious, and in another time they might have been a couple. But they are on opposite sides of the horrors of World War II, and their fates ultimately collide in connection with the radio—a means of resistance for the Allies and just one more avenue of annihilation for the Nazis. Set mostly in the final year of the war but moving back to the 1930s and forward to the present, the novel presents two characters so interesting and sympathetic that readers will keep turning the pages hoping for an impossibly happy ending. Marie-Laure and Werner both suffer crushing losses and struggle to survive with dignity amid Hitler’s swath of cruelty and destruction. VERDICT Doerr (The Shell Collector) has received multiple honors for his fiction, including four O. Henry Prizes and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. His latest is highly recommended for fans of Michael Ondaatje’s similarly haunting The English Patient.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

  “In 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of St. Malo. Doerr (Memory Wall) starts his story just before the bombing, then goes back to 1934 to describe two childhoods: those of Werner and Marie-Laure. We meet Werner as a tow-headed German orphan whose math skills earn him a place in an elite Nazi training school—saving him from a life in the mines, but forcing him to continually choose between opportunity and morality. Marie-Laure is blind and grows up in Paris, where her father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History, until the fall of Paris forces them to St. Malo, the home of Marie-Laure’s eccentric great-uncle, who, along with his longtime housekeeper, joins the Resistance. Doerr throws in a possibly cursed sapphire and the Nazi gemologist searching for it, and weaves in radio, German propaganda, coded partisan messages, scientific facts, and Jules Verne. Eventually, the bombs fall, and the characters’ paths converge, before diverging in the long aftermath that is the rest of the 20th century. If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize–winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts. Along the way, he convinces readers that new stories can still be told about this well-trod period, and that war—despite its desperation, cruelty, and harrowing moral choices—cannot negate the pleasures of the world.”

Kirkus (starred)

  “Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect. In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancy during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major. Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.”