Week 1.5 Holidays
What did I do?
Finished All The Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr
Covering 1934 to 2014, this novel was written from a large variety of perspectives – people with differing values and contexts – and made effective use of the five senses to insert the reader into such perspectives. Mainly following the lives of a German boy who was coerced into the Army, and a blind girl in German-invaded-France, the story revolves around World War I and the impact that it had on those involved. Throughout the novel the message of the helplessness of the individual during war is conveyed by most characters, especially those of Germany who were shown in detail.
The boy: Werner has a passion for science which carried him throughout the misgivings of his childhood, it is his gift with radios and technology that leads him to join an institute for education in Schulpforta. Here he meets a boy forced into the school by the expectations of his nationalist parents; Frederick was more passionate about birds than his country or the war until he was beaten by his peers, suffering brain damage. Werner joined a team of men, hunting foreign radio transmissions and murdering those responsible, at age 16 – by 18 he was known throughout Germany for what he was doing yet he was haunted by his role. As stated by his sister in the denouement of the novel, “It was hard for him not to do what was expected of him.” While it shown many times and though Werner came to this realisation himself, as his perception of the war was influenced by people such as his sister and Frederick – who saw beyond the war and the social pressure which was so heavy in their circumstances – Werner is trapped by those who govern over him for the majority of the story. He had little influence in his own decisions.
The girl: Like the rest of her character, her blindness is artistically conveyed, as Doerr combines the imagination of a child with the uncertainty of coming to terms with the world anew. Blind by six years of age (from developing cataracts at birth), Marie-Laure describes the world as “composed of webs and latices and upheavals of sound and texture” and “everything has colour.” All objects are not of their correct colour, “bees are silver; pigeons are ginger and auburn and occasionally golden”, this is endearing to the audience. The colours are used as she allocates them; they are an subjective representation of how she sees the world. Raised by her father alone, the principle locksmith of the National Museum of Natural History, Marie-Laure is extremely fascinated with the molluscs, learning to identify and categorise them by touch. She continues this passion when her father takes her Saint-Malo in an attempt to escape the invading Germans, arranging the shells in her (agoraphobic) Great Uncle’s home and visiting the hidden grotto.
The sea: Both characters adore the ocean. It was a relief for Marie-Laure after her father’s arrest to be taken to the sea every day, to visit the grotto and to read of voyages across oceans in novels. When she reads Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne into the transmitter and it is heard by trapped, exhausted Werner, he finds reason to keep trying. Werner, arriving in Saint-Malo feverish and delirious, headed straight for the sea (ignorant of the shore being riddled with German mines) while his team waited at the gate for admittance. He soon wrote, in a rare letter to his sister: “It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.” His last moments were on the shore. The sea was also the rightful resting place of the cursed diamond, the ‘Sea of Flames’.
The diamond: The legend of the Sea of Flames was that it had been made by the goddess of the earth to be given to the god of the sea by being carried in a river which had dried up. It was then found by a prince who took it believing that it would keep him alive however, the goddess cursed the stone so the loved ones of whoever owned the stone would die. Mary-Laure’s father was entrusted with the stone when the Paris was to be attacked. The stone was pursued by a German Sergeant Major who believed that it would cure him of his cancer. Its location by the end of the novel is very ambiguous, however it is assumed that, by the end of the war, it was, in some manner, in the sea. Doerr – after he built so much on the idea of this precious, cursed diamond – discredited its worth entirely by explaining, with the same patient tone of science, that it was nothing more than a rare production of the earth.
Image: Simon & Schuster. http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/All-the-Light-We-Cannot-See/Anthony-Doerr/9781476746586