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Friday, April 24

All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is the first American writer I read when I arrived in Boise. It turned out that he was, as myself, a resident of the city whose reading at the university library I had missed upon my arrival. Still, courtesy of a fellow worker with a fine taste for reading, All the light we cannot see ended up in my greedy hands right away.

It was a hot story among the pretentious, book club reading librarians and other book enthusiasts so I had to be a fast reader and pass it to next in line. As it was the case, the book read smoothly and quickly. All the light we cannot see is an easy one that keeps you involved in the almost implausible tale and satiated with sentimentality. If you have a sensitive nature, the book is bound to make your eyes water with compassion and your heart tingle with emotion. Nevertheless, there is something catchy about it since it is the 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction and it made me think twice about the reasons that prevented me from reviewing it at the time and the success behind the story. As an unwritten, defiant rule, I feel drawn to write about books that stir strong emotions, especially positive ones and feel reluctant to badmouthing a book. I am an avid reader whose love and loyalty for books go beyond the quality of the reading. Out of respect, I always finish a book- it is a strenuous, yet honorable duty. 

All the light we cannot see is the unbelievable story of two children caught in the horror of World War II. Werner is a German, Albino orphan with a penchant for assembling radios whereas Marie-Laure is a blind, motherless, French girl who loves books. A radio is hidden by the Resistance in the girl's house and this leads to a memorable meeting and an unhappy ending. There is a very thin line between fiction and historical truth in the book and Anthohy Doerr walks it virtuously. Still, there is so much drama in between the otherwise well-knit lines that it almost turns the book into a modern version of Les Miserables. To my mind, the success of the story resides in this very lyrical manner of processing the traumatic into a diverting banal. It is similar to a grand fairy tale for grown ups that sparkles like a diamond with magical powers called the Sea of Flames and melts the outlines of an evil war into a supernatural plot.

Besides the manipulating dichotomy of  good versus evil and the belief in the basic goodness of mankind, the book is remarkable for its intricacy and imaginative resources. You can easily feel the writer put a great deal of effort into research, details, language, and narrative verve. He takes the universal story of a spiteful war and has the boldness to turn it into a more than decent book which although appeals to a lot of emotions, has a tightly composed structure. The sights and sounds of wartime come palpable and real in his writing and for a brief moment, you feel there is promise -not for the characters since the tale is drawn in sad, overwhelming shades of blue, but for the human potential of endlessly reinventing itself through storytelling. In his heart-warming manner of leading the reader, Anthony Doerr strives for complexity by asking some of the right questions.

With reading and writing equally, it is a matter of luck. You fumble in the darkness feeling your way towards the impermanence of your own place within the great pattern of things. You might end up with the right kind of book in you hands or with the delivering rows of letters on your paper or empty-handed. Cultivating your self-awareness as a reader or writer comes from the ability to articulate meaning in books, may they be read or written. The greatest peril is to strive to entrap the metaphor and in some instances, the core of it all feels a bit ambushed in Doerr's story. Nevertheless it took him 10 years to write the book and he is a writer indeed in the perseverance and endless hours he put into his passion for words. I believe his aiming at describing the world the way he sees it, is to understand what it means to be humane and he does that.

Apart from my contradicting feelings towards the book, All the light we cannot see will forever be, to me, Boise in full August delight, smelling of good life with good people.

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