Wednesday, January 7, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See, first read of the new year

My first official read of the new year was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  And before I was half-way through the book, I was already recommending it to others, hoping they would read it as soon as possible, so we could have a book discussion.  And really this book is ripe for discussion.

Anthony Doerr's book made it to the top of numerous top ten of 2014 books and that is how I discovered it.  My trusty EW reviewer told me that the book was about a boy and a girl and was the most hopeful book they had read in a while.  At least that's what I remember from the review.  And although I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, I thought I would give it a go.

I, like the EW reviewer, do not want to give away too much of the book.  (I hate spoilers and you should, too!) So, I will just say that it follows the lives of a number of people including a girl and a boy in the years leading up to and during the Second World War.  And even as I sit writing this review, I am struck by one major theme: truth.

In the years leading up to the Second World War truth (the this-is-the-real-deal, unadulterated truth) was scarce.  Propaganda was rampant.  But what was worse than that is many people wanting to create their own truth because what they saw around them just couldn't be so.  The horrors of the Third Reich's rise presented people with the opportunity to face the reality of what was happening or create their own excuses or escapes to remove themselves from the harsh truth.  Often the excuse was self-preservation - knowing that if you had to face reality, it would destroy you or ones you loved, or both.

This is what I see as a major theme of the book and of my favorite movie of all time, Life is Beautiful.  The reader/viewer is forced to place herself in the shoes of the characters and ask herself, "What would I do in that situation? Would I lie to those I love?  Would I lie to myself?  Could I accept the truth of the situation, or would I choose to escape/ignore?"

In All the Light We Cannot See many of the characters choose to believe stories they are told, to believe propaganda, to see what they want to see, and even to lie to one another in hopes of providing comfort.  But there are a brave few in the book: the ones who see the truth and refuse to cover it up with myths and denials.  These are the characters that I connected with in the book.

There are many more themes to explore from the book.  As I said, it would make a great book for group discussion.  Ultimately, I very much enjoyed the simple (yet often profound) prose and the structure of the book (a jumbled timeline converging to a single day).  I did not check to see how many pages the book was before reading it on my e-reader.  I felt this would be a short book and so I savored each word for the first 100 pages or so.  But then I checked and found it was over 500 pages and upped my reading pace decidedly.  I feel like the the denouement could have almost been omitted and found I would have liked for the story to end differently, but the Second World War didn't provide everyone with a perfect ending, either.

Have you read it?  Let's talk.


Rating: 5 out of 7
This book fulfills the "Book by an Author You Haven't Read" requirement in my challenge for the year.