All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 1st Quarter pgs. 1-133

            So far, I have been greatly enjoying All the Light We Cannot See.  It combines an exceptional profoundness with a dramatic plot and dynamic characters, all elements which contribute to the book’s overall merit.  I cannot predict what will transpire next.  Most importantly, though, the book constantly forces me to think, ponder, and wonder.  The book promises to be one of my favorites.

One of the novel’s aspects which particularly stands out to me is the symbolism of the radio.  The radio seems to be a manifestation or a connection to the wider world, bringing new ideas and knowledge into Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s life.  However, once Hitler rises to power, the radio is like a trap, confining the German people to one mindset and one sadistic philosophy.  When Werner destroys his and Jutta’a handmade radio (which can receive signals from beyond Germany), he is actually cutting off his connection with the non-Nazi world and, in a way, with his own individuality.  During this scene, I personally was furious with Werner; he is pushing away his sister, Frau Elena, his morals, and everything he has ever known for the sake of his own ambition and the shining possibilities he perceives before him.  Maybe for him, the radio seems like an escape from the dark prison of the mines, but he is merely escaping to a higher-class prison which will chain his mind as well as his body.  Thus, the radio is like a channel for freedom and entrapment, ushering both purity and malice along its electromagnetic waves.  Perhaps the radio waves are a form of the “light we cannot see”, both literally and figuratively; they are invisible signals as well as ideas, thoughts, and beauty to which not everyone has access.

Doerr also utilizes detailed, evocative imagery in his novel, somehow conveying not only the scene but also the mood accompanying the setting.  For example, when Marie-Laure is attempting to lead the way home from the museum based on her knowledge of the neighborhood, Doerr narrates, “A trio of airborne ducks threads toward them, flapping their wings in synchrony, making for the Seine, and as the birds rush overhead, she imagines she can feel the light settling over their wings, striking each individual feather” (Doerr 41).  Not only can one picture the swift ducks and the little girl in one’s mind, but also one receives a sense of the freedom Marie-Laure feels as a result of being able to conquer her blindness.

Finally, I found the constant transition between characters’ perspectives and time periods quite intriguing.  One can perceive how Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives will connect and intertwine – indeed, how all of the characters’ fates will eventually be tied up together.  For certain, none of the characters’ lives will ever return to normal, though that wish is constantly expressed by the protagonists.  Indeed, when Doerr uses the phrase “Silent Germans row up the Seine in synchrony…they have beasts with them on chains…Slavering.  Ravenous.  They surge into the museum, scatter into the departments.  The windows go black with blood” (Doerr 66), it is impossible to imagine that any lives will ever return to the calm “Bonjour, bonjour” which marks Marie-Laure’s sense of normalcy.  I am particularly concerned about Marie-Laure’s father, who does not seem to be present during the bombing.  He seems almost too perfect of a father-loving, loyal, clever (I love the puzzle boxes he constructs), so some disaster must befall him.  The misfortune is perhaps foreshadowed by the Sea of Flames and its ominous curse, or perhaps the infamous jewel is only a metaphor for the enormous tragedy of World War II.  Either way, I have a sense of impending doom.

Thus far, ATLWCS (even the acronym is long!) is amazingly compelling.  I can hardly wait to read the rest, but I will try to restrain myself from revealing anything too early.  Have fun reading everybody!

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41 responses to “All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 1st Quarter pgs. 1-133

  1. ericachiang

    *Hey guys, I forgot how many people are reading this book… so I’m just going to post here, but if the group gets too big we might have to split into two. Have a great weekend! :)*

    1/4, pgs. 1-133

    Hi Elena,

    I completely agree with you that this book has been incredibly thought-provoking and PROFOUND, even though it seems that the action of the novel is only beginning towards the end of this reading section! It has been so exciting and keeps me turning page after page without needing to push myself. I was getting nervous about finishing this section by Saturday but I flew through it so quickly!

    Although I do agree that Werner’s destruction of the radio was impulsive and reprehensible, I think that, growing up without parents, the responsibility of protecting Jutta has fallen onto him. He loves and cares for her, but he struggles when attempting to shield Jutta from the radio’s propaganda and news. On a personal level, I was so surprised and distraught during the moment Werner breaks the radio. Though he has always been close to Jutta, the radio comes to represent their special bond. They stay up late at night to listen together, and for a very memorable period in their lives, their world seems to revolve around each other and the appliance that turns Werner’s life around. The radio sends Werner off to school and is his only connection to the outside world. It brings them happiness and represents all of the good in the world: music, science, hope. But when Jutta finds out about the plans to bomb Paris and “stares up, defiant” (74), Werner realizes this radio may begin to represent the hate and malice in the world. My perception of this scene is that Werner destroys the radio out of fear for his sister’s well-being, not selfishness. He loves the radio as much as she does, after all. In reaction, Jutta’s “eyes said, You are betraying me, but wasn’t he protecting her?” (113). Jutta’s reaction to Werner’s actions stirs emotion in readers; her anger translates into our own anger towards Werner and his harsh demolition of something they both love so much. Jutta is too young to understand Werner’s justification of what he has done and the harrowing significance of what is happening in the world around them. She only reacts to and seems to understand the negative aspect of what Werner has done—he ruins their prized possession and only source of information and hope. But as an older brother, he feels a responsibility to protect Jutta, even though he does not necessarily know how.

    I really like your interpretation of the “light we cannot see.” I hadn’t thought about the radio waves in that sense, but clearly because of the significant focus on the radio in this section of the book, that makes a lot of sense—My theory actually stems from an intriguing radio broadcast the children listen to one day: “The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children… It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” (48). Doerr uses the terms “the world it constructs” and “build for us a world” to hint that what we see is not, in fact, reality, that the brain does not know what surrounds the human body and it never will because it is NOT outside; instead, it is engulfed in eternal darkness (unless, of course, one’s head is split in half ;)). Perhaps this oblivion and belief that our brains perceive reality symbolizes our outlook on life in general. Our brains know nothing and yet we think they know everything. We convince ourselves, or at least pretend, that we understand what we do not.

    As I said before, I have really enjoyed this book thus far and can’t wait to keep reading. My favorite character is Mr. LeBlanc. It is impossible not to admire Mr. LeBlanc, who as you said, seems so perfect: smart, attentive, and selfless. I am pretty sure he is the man with the real Sea of Flames; who better to trust than the innocent, unsuspecting, quick-thinking locksmith? Also, his thought process, through which he comes to the conclusion that “There is no way the director would knowingly give a tradesman a one-hundred-and-thirty-three-carat diamond and let him walk out of Paris with it” (90), just seems to set him up for a staggering discovery that he is the keeper of the original Sea of Flames. But maybe (hopefully) this book will have plot twists and I’ll be wrong!

    I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys thought about this section of the novel. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

  2. In response to Elena and Erica: I agree on the fact that the radio within the novel is a representation of both freedom and entrapment. It is a connection to the outside world, and provides opportunities of exploration. I found this to be especially illustrated when Doerr narrates a scene where Werner skilfully repairs the radio and the aftermath of such an occurrence. “The radio comes back to life and the[y] shriek…in delight.” (62) The human race, as susceptible to external influences as they are, seem to take in the radio as some sort of “God” (as Doerr once reportedly placed with in comparison) and “lean” towards it in “desperation” of some new change. (63) They are trapped in their limitations of knowledge–a selective cognition of which the radio brings. When Werner and his sister Jutta listen to the Frenchman, they are illuminated into a world of possibilities. Similarly, when the radio is destroyed, such a window is lost. The radio is held up as a cataclysm of change—whether for the better or the worse, it is not yet known. It truly appears to be something that “ties a million ears to a single mouth.” (63) Just as it brought the dire news of the German bombing of Paris, it too, brings comfort and encouragement to Werner and his sister. In this way, the radio is a paradox, and illustrates the double-edged blade of knowledge, and the susceptibility of the human race.
    The first quarter of the book, though beginning calmly, carries a threatening undertone of apprehension. The readers may already know that the novel is set within the turbulent times of World War II, but one can only guess at what is about to happen next. As Doerr describes “From a certain angle, the spring seems so calm: warm, tender…And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it towards the breaking point.” (70) The spring, an eternal symbol of new life and ‘warmth’ has now been cruelly distorted into an ominous foreshadowing. The novel is ‘inflating’ with tension, and the audience is left in a state of much anticipation. The tragic, yet threatening tale of the infamous gem, the Sea of Flames seem to only add to this sense of foreboding. As a reader, I echo both Elena and Erica’s sentiments, and am very eager to discover the happenings of the novel. As Marie-Laure wonders (though perhaps in a different sense to my meaning), “Now? What will happen now?” (72)
    I also find the blindness of the characters, (both figurative and literally) to be particularly interesting. Though Marie-Laure is physically incapable of sight, she is extremely observant. Her wholehearted awareness of the world is illustrated in a scene set right before one’s learning of the Germans’ intentions to bomb Paris, where Doerr narrates, “Marie-Laure thinks she can sense a shiver beneath the air, in the pauses between the chirring of the insects like the spider cracks of ice when too much weight is set upon it.” (71) Like the ice slowly cracking under an oppressive burden, her previously safe, comforting world is shattered under her further awareness. Werner, on the other hand, though capable of sight, appears to be much uncomprehending of the happenings of the world. He seems to be happily ‘blind’ to all those unrelated towards his passions. “‘All you want to do are mathematics problems,’ Jutta whispers. ‘Play with radios. Don’t you want to understand what’s happening?” (73) He sees the events happening around him with a carelessness unique to intellectuals, and cannot piece them together to a conclusion, whereas Marie-Laure, though visually impaired, is capable of a ‘sight’ far beyond her physical limitations.
    So far, my venture into the novel has been much promising, and I can hardly wait to further devour these pages. It is almost as if the world of Marie-Laure and Werner had come alive before my very eyes, and have entrapped me within its influence–a ‘cage’ that I cannot escape until I have satisfied my curiosity. I will continue reading this novel with much trepidation and excitement. Happy reading everybody! 🙂

    • emmymarkgraf

      In regards to the blindness in the characters, I definitely agree that there is a strong figurative and literal blindness in the characters, Marie-Laure and Werner. Both Werner and Marie-Laure have no control over their blindness. Werner grows up listening to the German propaganda and it contorts his mind into thinking like the Germans are good. He can’t help but follow what he has been told. Marie-Laure has obviously no control over her blindness. The blindness that both Werner and Marie-Laure experience drive them to become independent. After Marie-Laure becomes blind she struggles to find her way home with her father. One day after many failed attempts she finds her way back home and, “her father’s hands are in her armpits, swinging her up, and Marie-Laure smiles, and he laughs a pure, contagious laugh” (41). Although she is young and blind, she is independent and can rely on her internal map to find her way home. Werner, being an orphan, is already used to being independent but his blindness towards what the German’s are doing reinforces his independence. On his last morning at the Children’s House, Jutta and Werner are talking, “‘Do you know what atrocities mean?’ ‘Hush, Jutta. Please.’ ‘Is it right,’ Jutta says, ‘to do something only because everyone else is doing it?’ Doubts: slipping in like eels. Werner shoves them back” (133). This reveals that Werner has his doubts but he chooses to ignore and shows through this action that he is independent enough to believe what he wants to believe.

      I also found that there was a similarity between Entienne and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird uncanny. Both haven’t gone outside in decades, although one by will and the other by force. It seems like the relationship between Entienne and Marie-Laure might be similar to the relationship between Boo and Scout. The relationship between Boo Radley and Scout was a very complicated thing. Boo Radley knew a lot about Scout from watching her grow up but had never directly interacted with her until the night when Jem and Scout got attacked. Scout on the other hand, had only heard stories about Boo and never even seen him. This relationship was a big let down because throughout the book it seemed like they were building it up; all the times where they got presents from him, or tried to talk to him. In the end, they only meet once, and during that interaction they talk very briefly. I hope that the relationship between Entienne and Marie-Laure doesn’t end up that way. I guess I’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

      I truly love this book. The author’s style is very descriptive and it fools me into believing that I am in the moment; a sign of a truly wonderful book. Echoing everyone above, I think this is a wonderful book. I think many people would love to read this book, because it tells a very unique and captivating story that promises to reveal many more interesting themes and lessons that connect to the rest of the world.

  3. oliviasweng

    Hey everyone!

    While I was reading, I also agreed on how the radio symbolized various meanings, such as the connection to people around the world and resistance & entrapment (mentioned above).

    Further on the topic of resistance against entrapment, I found various symbols, mainly from the books that are prominent in both Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives. For Werner, The Principles of Mechanics, and Marie-Laure her editions of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Both these books hold an incredible amount of information, and the two continue to read for as long as fate allows them to. As it was stressed in the book, all the boys were to be sent to the mines at the age of 15 and nowhere else, and yet Werner rebels towards this reality. Instead, he allows himself not to simply accept it and instead immerses in learning about mechanics through his book, The Principles of Mechanics. With society pressuring him into only one future, he continues to pursue another dream in science through his reading. Jutta also seems to agree, boldly stating both her and Werner’s opinions on how he will “probably win a big prize. He says we’ll go to Berlin and study under the great scientists” (64). Clearly, Werner’s book was a driving force of resistance (before it was taken away) towards the societal oppression he feels about his future in the mines. Maure-Laurie also encounters entrapment, the obvious being her inability to see. Common perception understands how reading is harder for blind people (obviously, with having to relearn and guide based on touch), but Marie-Laure overcomes this obstacle and instead is able to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. She pushes through and does not allow her eyesight to trap her and lead to her being unable to read. In fact, she finds that “when, after two months, she reaches the novel’s last line, she flips back to the first page and starts again” (52). Not only does this show how she has accomplished reading a whole edition, but she readily starts over and continues to read. It would be understandable for Marie-Laure’s blindness to trap her in her reading, but she instead resists the difficulties her disability brought. Interestingly enough, these two books lead both characters to their future, with Werner and his ability to fix radios and Marie-Laure moving to the coast where her uncle lives.

    For Marie-Laure’s father, I also definitely agree that he seems to have all the characteristics of a ‘perfect’ yet realistic father merged into one. Taking this into account, and also along with Erica/Elena’s prediction, I think Mr. LeBlanc is sure to be caught up in misfortune (His own death? Separation from Marie-Laure?). Considering the setting of World War 2 and his involvement in the infamous Sea of Flames, it would be surprising if nothing bad would happen. Also, is it not always the (favorite) characters that embody all positive traits who end up involved in tragedy [and cause (me) grief]?

    Just like you three above me, I have been immensely enjoying this novel so far, and will definitely look forward to seeing what the future will hold :).

  4. Hi guys!
    I’m extremely sorry, this post will be on the short side because my original blog post was deleted when I attempted to save it! I agree with all of you in the fact that the radio represents freedom and entrapment at the same time. Also, the symbolism of the radio is significant, because it represents Werner’s worth to the world, but the content of the radio prevents Werner from becoming something more in life, such as when the vice Minister visits the Children’s home and states, “The only place your brother is going, little girl, is into the mines. As soon as he turns fifteen. Same as every other boy in this house.” (58). Also, the radio, to me, represents the country of Germany itself, and how it promises great things to its people, and to take them out of their terrible lives, such as the radio did figuratively to Werner and Jutta, but instead only corrupted its people with lies and hateful messages towards others.
    To me, another interesting aspect of the novel is the loss of Werner’s innocence. At the beginning of the novel, he is a young boy who just wants something to better his life, and does not pay almost any attention to his surroundings. However, he begins to notice strange things happening outside and inside of his community, and begins to become more aware of Hitler and the war surrounding them. One such example of this is when Werner laments, “Good evening, he thought. Or heil Hitler. Everyone is choosing the latter.” (69) Through his neighbors, Werner learns that he must be far more careful with his choice of words in his community, and he must respect his country even if he does not agree with the messages they are sending through the radio and other media. This comes close to another topic you mentioned, the blindness of Werner in the story. I can see how you guys think that, but as Werner matures, so does his perspective on the war, and his surroundings become far more clear to him. However, I agree with you on the grounds of Marie-Laure, and that she knows more than the average person about others and the stakes that the war has brought.
    Another point I would like to bring up is the difficulty that the chapters bring in reading the novel. As much as I am enjoying the story, sometimes I become confused when I am trying to figure out the time in which the chapter takes place. Because the book takes place in different years and between different characters, it is quite confusing when it jumps from an eight year old Werner to a sixteen year old Marie-Laure, when both of them are around the same age. However, the book is extremely engaging so far, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about World War II.
    Thank you!
    Lili

  5. caeligriffin

    Hi everybody!
    The insightful interpretation of the radio as a harmful and positive influence in the novel was one I had not seen previously, although I viewed the radio as a deeper influence over Werner than Marie-Laure, at least within the first quarter of the story. Furthermore, the Marie-Laure is more significantly affected by a more abstract perspective. For example, the myth of the Sea of Flames, and the braille novels are constants in her story. Marie-Laure describes her surroundings symbolically in illustrating, “The museum buildings are beige, chestnut, hazel. Its scientists are lilac and lemon yellow and fox brown. Piano chords loll in the speaker of the wireless in the guard station, projecting rich blacks and complicated blues down the hall toward the key pound” (44). Werner observations are comparatively empirical and literal: “Electricity, Werner is learning, can be static by itself. But couple it with magnetism, and suddenly you have movementwaves” (57). The two characters basic characteristics symbolize two outlooks throughout the first quarter of ATLWCS, which are constantly conflicting as Werner struggles to understand his imaginative sister, and Marie-Laure attempts to comprehend the world of numbers outside of her mind (number of storm drains to the bakery, number of stories in her house, etc.).
    This contradiction between values is further exemplified in the juxtaposition between compassionate characters, including Frau Elena and Herr LeBlanc, and merciless characters such as Hitler and the Nazi examiners. Although the “good” characters outnumber the merciless, the difference in their effects on Europe, and the world is in their conviction. Hitler believed strongly in his beliefs, and was thus able to convince a nation to comply. Herr LeBlanc and Frau Elena, and people similar to them, are unwilling to fight for their more empathetic principles, as doing so would violate their amorous morals. This proves to be a disadvantage on a larger scale, but helps to nurture their immediate relationships.
    The plot of this novel is full of so many intertwined pieces, it is easy to become tangled in. I have felt every page, and appreciate how recently the book was publish (2014). It adds a layer of emotionality which appeals to a generation that is too young to have experienced World War II, and helps us to truly feel the connotations of the war. I am excited to keep reading and blogging, and cannot wait to see the paths of Werner and Marie-Laure to intersect. Good luck in you reading everyone!:)

  6. danielleneadwork

    Hi everyone!

    I have also thoroughly enjoyed this book so far! Like Erica, I was worried about getting through the first quarter of it in time, but found that I was able to rip right through it, as it kept me turning page after page.

    In response to Elena’s idea of the radio waves representing “the light we cannot see,” I found that quite intriguing and I had not really thought about it in that way before. For example, one insightful comment you made was “they are invisible signals as well as ideas, thoughts, and beauty to which not everyone has access” (Elena). I agreed with this in the way that the radio waves are spread across and broadcast in every country, yet only some possess the capability to access the ideas spread. But, I also took this and interpreted it as how the radio channels from foreign countries are forbidden to listen to, while Jutta still constantly chooses to disobey this and listen to them. Germany attempts to shield its people from the enlightening broadcasts of foreign radio, otherwise known as “the light.” This causes most people to really never see this light and I think the book is really framed around that idea of entrapment (similar to your thoughts, Camellia). Citizens of Germany are especially strapped in mentally through Hitler’s brainwashing methods, and through ways such as banning foreign radio. So when Jutta listens to these stations and acts this way, Werner tries to stop her by breaking the radio because he has been submitted to his country’s ways. I believe Jutta will not be the only character to delve into breaking into the thoughts of other countries and perspectives. Whenever a group of people is confined to a strict mindset, there are bound to be those whom will break free of these standards and make their own paths.

    I agree with Emmy on the subject of the similarity between Boo Radley and Etienne, although I don’t think one was necessarily by choice and the other force. In my opinion, both stories started out by giving the reader the idea that each character respectively was hiding out by force and was not happy about it. In TKAM, we later learned that Boo chose to stay inside and did not mind at all. After that, I would not be so quick to jump to the conclusion that Etienne in ATLWCS (a long acronym) is not choosing to live that way, and I think that he may have strong reasons to do so as well. I will have to keep reading to find out, and look forward to discovering the upcoming similarities and differences between the two characters.

    I found the perspective and layout of this book to be interesting, but a bit deceiving at times. It seems to jump back and forth between characters every other chapter, which was perfect for this time and type of story, in my opinion. It gives two very different perspectives as I read, giving me more insight and understanding. It also became clear after a couple switches who was who and how the story was told. I am excited to see more of these characters and how they develop in the harsh setting of the start of WWII.-especially because their stories are bound to start to intertwine at some point (as the action is just starting up), which shall create a whole other dimension in this mind-grabbing novel. But, so far the story has gone back and forth between two different time periods in these character’s lives, within a span of ten years. It is relatively distracting because the parts in which the story jumps ahead, I find that I do not fully grasp what is happening, though I believe Doerr slightly intended for some of this to slowly work itself out in the end. I will just have to continue reading to further develop my understanding of these switches.

    The character whom has caught my attention the most is Werner Pfennig. At first, I did not especially take notice of him, and was not immediately pulled into his scenes. Yet, as Doerr developed him further, I became pulled into his life, feeling like I was really watching him grow and learn. At the turning point in which he immediately, without a doubt, jumps off the platform in his test, and then yells “Heil Hitler!” (116), he shows his maturity when he thinks to himself, “Exceptional. Unexpected. We will take only the purest, only the strongest. The only place your brother is going, little girl, is into the mines” (116). As Werner is rapidly thinking these thoughts he is proving how although Jutta is against him going to this school, it is really an act to save himself for her. He needs to be accepted into this school to avoid working in the mines and to create a better life for him and Jutta. I am eager to see how this school works out for him, and if Werner is able to fully mend his relationship with Jutta.

    I have loved this book so far, and have found it to be quite mesmerizing. Throughout each chapter, there are also twists and turns in the plots, and I am expecting the story to take a large, surprising change in the next quarter. I hope this story continues to grab my attention and appease my desire for a riveting and fascinating storyline. I hope you have all enjoyed this book as much as I have and happy reading for the next part!

    • Second Quarter: pg. 134-266
      Hello everyone, it’s me again! I hope everyone is still enjoying the novel, although it sounds like it from your responses. All the ideas were incredibly insightful and unique, especially considering how many people are reading this book :). I didn’t see many of the symbols from those points of view before!
      Personally, I feel that ATLWCS has merely become more engaging throughout this second quarter. One of the main intriguing aspects for me was the introduction of Marie-Laure’s “crazy” uncle Etienne. I find it ironic that he is so mortally terrified by the world, yet he constantly keeps the universe “in [his] radios. Right at [his] fingertips” (157). It is as if, having immersed himself in the world of ghosts and specters for such a lengthy period of time following his brother’s death, he cannot interact with the world of the living except through invisible wavelengths. When the Nazis confiscate his radios, they are destroying his connection with reality, for he is only fully tethered to it in the confines of his house with the rest of the globe filtering in through an earpiece. As we have discussed, the radio would seem to be both a freeing influence and an entrapment once again; he is connected to humanity, but only through a small box made of wires and a pathway of electrons. Perhaps Etienne bonds well with Marie-Laure because she, too, has reason to fear the world and its magnitude, given her inability to perceive the world visually.
      Through Etienne, we have also discovered the source of Werner and Jutta’s “professor” – Etienne’s brother! Somehow, the radio which was built for a ghost managed to reach across not just national borders, but lives to reach Werner. By lives, I mean the radical difference between the
      middle-aged Etienne in the house by the sea to the young Werner and his sister in the coal-dusted Zollverein. That radio appealed to Werner’s dreams, but also sent him on his treacherous path to Schulpforta. Perhaps Marie-Laure’s grandfather was not the only spectre to whom the radio was speaking; perhaps the radio was also addressing Werner’s best self, which now becomes more and more of a memory as Werner sinks deeper into the clutches of Schulpforta. Hopefully, that ghost is not as vanquished as the soul of Marie-Laure’s grandfather.
      Speaking of Werner, I hate the damage that he is inflicting on himself at Schulpforta. He is swallowing all his doubts and all his pangs of conscience in order to pursue his dreams, not realizing that the numbers and triangles he has worked so hard to calculate will only narrow down his destination in life (like the third point of the triangle) instead of fulfilling his amibtions. I am not certain why he will not listen to himself. Maybe he is ashamed of admitting his own erroneous decision, maybe he is blinded by his own ambition, or maybe he believes there is no turning back. It is possible that he is correct in the latter opinion, for his friend Frederick has undergone nothing but torture for being the only one to declare “I will not” (229) when asked to inflict harm on his fellow human beings. In a way, Frederick exemplifies everything that Werner wishes he could remain under the pressured circumstances but cannot: Frederick is strong, courageous, and wise in his own way. Even Frederick’s birds could symbolize the free will which Werner never realized had been taken from him. The tragic, unforgivable assault of Frederick reminds me a bit of The Scarlet Ibis: an innocent yet resilient soul destroyed and rent to pieces by the darker side of the world.
      Finally (yes, I’m almost done, sorry for the looooong post), the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Marie-Laure’s father (as Erica said, we all know he probably possesses the real Sea of Flames, right?) reminded me of Marie-Laure’s mention of Foucault’s pendulum on page 207. Even if your loved ones are gone, even if the city is in flames and lives are in shambles, the world keeps spinning, never caring about who lives, who dies, and who exists on the brink of the two. This interpretation is rather morbid, I admit. Maybe I am simply bitter about the disappearance of Monsieur Leblanc, or frustrated because Marie-Laure’s life has been ripped apart by one tiny stone made out of the same substance that exists in every No. 2 pencil. Maybe the point is that even when everything and everyone seems poised at the brink of despair, the world does NOT end, and life will continue, echoing the perseverance of the planet in its continued rotation. I wish to believe in the latter explanation, but since this was the time of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, I am not completely convinced. What do you think?
      Happy reading everyone! I hope you all love the book so far!

      • ericachiang

        Haha I am sure no one minds the “looooong posts” because they are so insightful and intriguing :)!
        I agree with your supposition that Etienne and Marie-Laure bond over their inability to cope with the world at its full size; Marie-Laure strongly depends on the smaller, less intimidating version of the sprawling and overwhelming city which her father has created for her, shown when she is led into an alley and her immediate thought is, “If her father has built this alley into his model, her fingers have not discovered it yet” (259). Her brain processes reality by connecting her four senses to her knowledge of the intricate model her father built. However, I do find it fascinating that while Etienne shuts himself in his home and hides from this fear, Marie-Laure begs to be let out of the house. Clearly, they struggle with the world’s magnitude for completely different reasons, but when comparing their coping mechanisms, I cannot help but see some connection to the children and adults in To Kill a Mockingbird. Marie-Laure, similar to Scout, is naive and innocent, wanting to experience all the world has to offer as if she does not have a disability. She is not oblivious, but perhaps feels immune, to the cruelty and fear the world harnesses. Etienne, on the other hand, has experienced too much pain to interact with the world at a personal level any more. His interest in the world at a removed level displays his similarity to Boo Radley– he wants to know what happens outside but is too fearful to be involved. As you said, his only connection to the world is through radio waves, or light that we cannot see. It is as if this type of electromagnetic radiation is less harmful and dangerous, less REAL than what humans CAN see. He seems to believe that if he does not directly interact with the world, it can no longer hurt him.
        As you mentioned, Frederick is a role model to Werner and has qualities Werner wishes he possessed. In addition, I found it interesting that “Frederick is a decent runner, faster than Werner” (192), showing that Werner desires both Frederick’s personal and physical attributes. However, the most unique of Frederick’s traits are his courage and resilience. When Frederick announces, “I will not” (229) during the torture of the prisoner, my initial reaction was actually frustration; I did not want to feel annoyed with Frederick, but I found myself wanting to slam the book down and scream that he did not even save the prisoner. I wished he could be more pragmatic, more interested in saving himself, given the surrounding men’s uncompromising desire to show superiority. And although I admire Frederick’s courage, even Frederick knew the prisoner was already dead. He said, “He is already finished, sir” (229), knowing that whether he threw the water or not, the prisoner would die. But instead of saving himself, both he and the prisoner share fateful ends. The irony is that, while others view his actions as impulsive and ignorant, he DID save himself, in a sense. Had he gone along with the other cadets, he would have destroyed himself on the inside more than the others could have through physical damage. It is easy to view his defiance as sacrifice, but readers eventually realize he saved himself and his soul by refusing to drench the prisoner. Also, I wanted to quickly point out that Frederick’s glasses seem symbolic for the way he sees life in general; when he is sent off to school without them, he finds himself viewing the world differently than everyone else does.
        Lastly, I wanted to highlight the way the book switches between time periods. This literary technique creates a very dramatic feel, revealing details of future events before the reader can connect them to the present, but with each section, another enlightening piece of the puzzle is added, making the overall picture more understandable. I was struck by Marie-Laure’s way of dealing with the tragedies she faces at the end of the story’s timeline. Without knowing why she is at home alone or why Etienne is NOT at home, she seemed to be dealing with the situation very well. I admired her self-sufficiency and the ingenuity of her trip wire contraption. Her independence shows that, even in hard times, she has continued to grow and develop, in relation to your question about the pendulum. I am very curious to know what happens in between and after the events we already know. This book has been amazing so far, and I am beginning to see how Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives connect. As we move further into the book, we will probably find more reasons for which they are in the same book! I look forward to hearing your interpretations!

  7. emmymarkgraf

    In response to Elena and Erica, I agree that Etienne and Marie-Laure become closer because of their disabilities. I believe that since Etienne might not have the clearest mind he still has very good eyesight while Marie-Laure has a very sharp mind but is blind. These differences make Etienne and Marie-Laure a somewhat perfect pair. Going with Erica, I think Frederick’s glasses symbolize that when he is using them he is able to see, but he is left blind to the atrocities being committed by the Germans. However, when he doesn’t have the glasses he is able to see, crystal clear, the horrors of war. He becomes so obsessed with birds that he doesn’t even notice his situation. Werner describes what he sees Frederick doing; “Frederick peers out the open window through a pair of antique field glasses and makes a record on the bed rail of birds he has sighted… Out on the grounds, a group of ten-year-olds is carrying torches and swastika flags toward the river” (140). This instance shows Frederick’s figurative blindness towards the situation that he is in. For a very observant bird watcher he is unable to see the horrors going on around him; ten-year-olds carrying flags and marching as if they are in the army.
    Werner like Frederick has a literal blindness towards the atrocities. He has recognized this fault many times, when he last talked to Jutta who said,”’Is it right… to do something only because everyone else is doing it?’ Doubts: slipping in like eels. Werner shoves them back” (133) Werner first recognizes that what he has been told to believe in might not be true. He tells himself that Jutta doesn’t understand anything, that she’s too young. However, later on, after Frederick’s incident, “he misses Jutta… the way she always seems to recognize what is right… Perhaps she’s the only thing keeping him from surrendering totally” (263). By making himself believe in something that he doesn’t truly believe in he is allowing for that belief to spread like a disease. He is conforming to the social standard because if he doesn’t he might end up like Frederick. Yet at the same time he wants to be free of his blindness and realize what is right and what he should believe. That leads me to think? Later on in the book will Werner allow his true opinion on the matter to shine through or will he keep his opinion, thoughts, and disbelief hidden, pushed to back corner of his brain, waiting to be forgotten.
    In regards to how the book switches time period, it almost reminded me of The Book Thief, where it would switch back to other time periods to explain backstories of characters. I think in both books, the technique of switching views and/or time periods allowed for the reader to comprehend more, without having to make inferences and assumptions on the character’s characteristics. At the same time in ATLWCS the foreshadowing predicts a grimmer situation that keeps you hooked. Overall, the second half has provided equal, if not more excitement and thrill that kept me turning each page. I am loving the book more and more, and I am definitely going to recommend it to everyone because this book is different from any other Holocaust book that I’ve read, because it provides many different and unique points of views from people all over Europe during this time.

  8. oliviasweng

    Hey everyone,

    Sorry to break the streak, but this may be a shorter response than all the ones above haha. Noted, the responses above I found are all extremely insightful, and I can’t say I disagree with any of them.

    Anyways… from Erica’s connection of the characters in ATLWCS to TKAM, I was inspired [reminded] and found some connections from the TKAM unit in English of my own, mainly of the theme of wearing a mask (though this does not directly relate to the book specifically). I found this first when Jutta speaks to Werner right before he leaves, of whether or not “it is right, to do something only because everyone else is doing it”. Right after Werner hears this, he forcefully pushes his doubts away and tries to convince himself differently regarding Jutta’s words. Throughout his training at Schulpforta, he continues to do this [noted above in Elena’s post], and in a sense I feel that is his way of wearing a mask. Deep down, his true opinions and doubts are there, but in such a dangerous society he lives in, he ~obviously~ has to hide these away for the sake of his own safety and become one with all the boys. Without the thoughts that we, the readers, are able to understand, Werner is really just an obedient boy who in reality does not stir up much trouble at Schulpforta. It is only the readers who can see his internal thoughts, which allow us to understand the mask Werner wears – if we were to only learn the actions of Werner, there is a clear difference between those and his own thoughts. He does not help Frederick, even though he wishes to. He really does nothing physically that amounts to his thoughts [though my eyes may have deceived me – when I read, I don’t always read every single word – I’m flawed].

    Speaking of Jutta, I found it interesting how much Werner references about her. It seems that she is this important figure in his life that is a driving force in all his personal thoughts. When he is fearful of being called out as the weakest one there, he notes of how Jutta would never be, with her determination and intelligence. Time and time again, he remembers Jutta and the broken radio. When Frederick is beaten the first time, Werner thinks, “Jutta, close your eyes” (195). Clearly, Jutta is somewhere very close to his heart regarding all the trials and conflicts Werner faces. I found this interesting at how close Werner is with Jutta in his thoughts, considering in the reality of communication they are not as close in their relationship as they were before. She is presumably still angry with him, and their letters back and forth do not hold much depth and instead stay with the formalities: I’m so busy, I’m eating, etc.

    Another small thing, this is in relation to how we were learning about tone in class [so many connections to class-related stuff (:]. It was a really small section, more of a few words but I thought tone was subtly shown in how Werner sees that Volkheimer and Bernd “have only two canteens of water, each half-empty” (211). I’m sure we’ve all heard of the half-empty half-full phrase, how some look at things optimistically while others pessimistically. With Werner seeing this canteens as half-empty, it faintly creates a more downcast mood. The conditions and the overall operation of the facility already (very clearly) demonstrate this, but with the two words of half-empty that Werner thinks, it kind of shows how unconsciously Werner already has a dark mindset regarding his life at Schulpfarta – but he continues to push his worries and doubts away.

    I focused mainly on Werner’s perspective for this quarter, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Marie-Laure’s side! Her life is just as intriguing and it is getting even more exciting as [as Erica mentioned] I am starting to piece together how the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure will be woven together. This book did not reveal to be what I thought it would be like, but I can say that I’m not disappointed so far.

    Also, along with Erica’s first post, I can also see how this group might need to split in two, considering how many people there are. This group also tends to write very long responses, so I think that is another reason to split in half :). Though there’s nothing wrong with lengthy [and insightful might I add] responses!

    Side note, please forgive the adequate writing – I think pre-Thanksgiving break has caused me to become somewhat lethargic regarding school work.. That reminds me, everyone, have a great Thanksgiving! and the week long break 🙂

  9. Hey guys! 🙂

    note: this was written before Emmy and Olivia’s post, but my comment would not post for some reason, so I was unable to reply on some of their points. 😦 Regardless, have a great Thanksgiving break!

    As Erica and a number of others have pointed out, there are a number of parallels between Etienne and Boo Radley, as both have experienced the darker components of society, and have consequently shut themselves away from it. Their actions are limited by their all-consuming worries, and it only serves to remind us just how potent the power of fear is. Etienne and Boo, too aware of the cruelty of the world, are like children, afraid of large unknown spaces, and thus, as a result, have confined themselves to their homes. Both are mere bystanders. Despite the limitations of the four-walled rooms that are their everyday lives, both seem to have fabricated a ‘window’ into the happenings of the world; Boo, through the windows of the Radley house and his gifts, and Etienne, through his radios, books, and imagination. Through their constructed ‘windows’, they are satisfying their curiosities on the occurrences of the world, and yet at the same time, submitting to their fears. Interestingly, the constraints of such walls are seemingly negative, as illustrated with Etienne: “‘ah’ he says, more quietly…the faintest touch of dread returning to his voice, ‘here we are. Home.” (151) Boo, with his family’s oppressive actions and Etienne, with his self-confinement, have been painted as portraits of the consequences of the cruelty of the outside world, and the damage that one can receive from the relentless ‘beasts’ of society. Etienne, in particular, is consumed with the ghosts of his past, and refuses to escape their clutches even when he is offered an opportunity to. I can only hope that he will advance past his self-constructed obstacles, and flourish as the man he was once.

    I also loved the introduction of Madame Manec and the role she played in the resistance. It introduces a new sense of vibrancy into the story, and it seems to be summed up in her statement, “‘Seventy-six years old,’ she whispers, ‘and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?’” (253) More importantly, it also points towards a complex question of morality, that “doing nothing is as good as collaborating.” (269) This conversation occurs between Etienne and Madam Manec as she is trying to persuade him to help the resistance. She seems to have finally grown weary of tending to his fears, and instead, urges him to return to the state of vibrancy that he has lost with what he has experienced. Similarly, Werner endures this question of morality when he witnesses the torment that Frederick is forced to endure because of his perceived weaknesses, and does not do anything about it aside from performing a few acts of occasional aid. Doerr paints a vivid depiction of humanity and its fluctuations, and whether or not impact of becoming catalyst of change is a positive achievement.

    However, the theme of good versus evil seem to be most prevalent within this particular quarter of the novel, and the morality of humanity are both at its zenith and too, at its lowest point. Frederick, as you guys have mentioned, is a role model towards Werner, and too, appears to be the closest representation of goodness within the oppressed atmosphere of the Schulpforta. His courage, intelligence, and resilience in the face of danger encapsulates him within a character of humanity. Interestingly, though he has been subjected to the same dehumanizing treatment as the other cadets, he has not lost his individuality, and his ability to see “what other people don’t.” (163) Perhaps he is a parallel to Werner’s sister Jutta, who too, possesses an almost unnatural ability of perception. Jutta, with her insight into the happenings of the world, its people, and their actions, and Frederick, with his ability to tell a bird from its voice, they are a representative of humanity’s morality in the ways they are able to recognise the right course of which to undertake. “Frederick has to be nudged forward by the boy behind him. The upperclassmen hands him a bucket and [he] pours it out on the ground.” (229) With his refusal to further increase the suffering of the prisoner, his innate goodness shines through, whereas the other cadets and instructors, or perhaps more importantly, Hitler and his proponents, must then reflect the darker predilections of man. The juxtaposition of the two seem to further enhance the significance of the choices of which one undertakes, and the consequences of such actions. Furthermore, the struggle between these two seemingly primordial concepts is seen within the character of Werner as he struggles between his ambition to rise out of his station and submit to the commands of the Führer, or to actively fight back against what he feels to be unjust. The concept of good and evil seem to be a most seminal constituent of the novel, and through its all-encompassing waves, (much like the electromagnetic waves of which the novel is centered upon) drive the characters to further enhance their conceived spectrum of possibility, and open their minds to previously undiscovered ideas. Though I agree that Werner is actively self-inflicting damage upon himself, it is also important to note the ways that he is starting to resist this carefully crafted, systematic dehumanization. As Frederick is being punished for his inability to run as fast as some of the other cadets, Werner watches on the sideline: “…every part of him wants to scream: is this not wrong? But here, it is right…” (194) In this way, he perhaps embodies the internal struggle between goodness and inhumanity as he progresses within the Schulpforta.

    Finally, it also seems (to me at least) that the author has painstakingly been building the book up to the point where Marie-Laure and Werner will finally meet, and perhaps such an action will lead to the culmination of the novel. Their paths have not yet crossed, but already, a sense of foreshadowing has already been cast, and as Erica said, one can see in fragments, of who the two character’s paths will intertwine. As a reader, I am held in a state of utmost suspense, and can hardly wait until the point where everything is unveiled. Happy reading everyone! ☺

    • caeligriffin

      Hello! Sorry this is late:( but we were having some internet/computer issues. I have loved reading through everybody else’s posts, and thought I may comment further on the characters, as it seems to be a recurring theme in many of your posts this quarter of the novel.
      The characters throughout the novel are obviously unique in their traits, and I in exploring this I found that many seem to have been built by Doerr with a streak of irony, for lack of a better phrase. For example, as at Cami already touched on, Madam Manec defied her age and society in resisting the Germans. And as Elena mentioned, Uncle Etienne is afraid of the world, despite his connection through the radios. Also, the gem specialist, Von Rumpel, is introduced as a family man, with two daughters and a loving wife, although he is later portrayed as a negative, greedy asset of the Nazi cause.
      Perhaps better instances of irony in the characters though, can be found in the more developed main characters. Marie-Laure is a blind girl who “sees” colors more vividly than any other character. She describes the museum as “beige, chestnut, hazel. Its scientists are lilac and lemon yellow and fox brown. Piano chords loll in the speaker of the wireless in the guard station, projecting rich blacks and complicated blues down the hall toward the key pound” (44). (This reminded me of Death in The Book Thief, and how he described things in a similar fashion). Because of her disability, she has never attended formal schooling, but finds herself reading whenever possible. Again, in regard to her education, she was never expressively taught within the book to perform calculations or place value in math, but numbers are a constant within her life. As she walks outside in Saint-Malo with Madam Manec, she soliloquizes, “Twenty-two paces to the intersection with the rue d’Estrées. Forty more to the little gate. Nine steps down and she’s on the sand and the twenty thousand sounds of the ocean engulf her” (241). This focus on numbers is a connection between Werner and Marie-Laure, and serves as a foreshadow to their presumed eventual meeting. Werner himself has few friends, but is marked with an apparent loyalty helps to nurture his relationships with Juta and Frederick especially. He uncharacteristically ignores their values though, and in doing so puts his circumstances and fears above those who he loves. This is demonstrated first when he breaks the radio for fear of being found by the Nazi’s, then by attending Shulpforta. He betrays Fredrick’s morals specifically in choosing to pour water over the “Jewish thief,” but in a more broad sense, betrays him in continuing with the Nazi legacy and work, even after seeing the damage which it had caused to Frederick. Both Marie-Laure and Werner are forced into actions which counter their natures, but the controlling factor in both varies. For Werner it is fear, but for Marie-Laure it is a curiosity about her surroundings.
      I found it difficult at first to find the common thread between the two, as they juxtapose, but have tentatively concluded that it is the two characters’ perceptions of the world. On that same tangent, Werner and Marie-Laure were also very opposite in the factors that influenced their perspectives. Marie-Laure is most evidently influenced by her blindness, which inhibits her in mundane task such as walking, but aids her in her philosophical views. Her blindness forces her keen observation of her surroundings, a point that Cami and Emmy discussed in the last blog. Marie-Laure is also significantly affected by her father, his work at the museum, and his kind gentle nature. In contrast, Werner has never had parents, and although Frau Elena arguably is a mother figure to Werner she is unable to compensate completely because of her business with other children, and Werner’s independence. He was rather unconventionally swayed more heavily by his sister, in the way that he spends a large amount of is early life looking out for her, and yet her fierce conviction in her ethics seeps into his character just enough to make him at least question propaganda. Which leads me to the fact that though Werner has a generally positive character, the bias of Nazi schooling and publicity has rendered him ironically blinder than Marie-Laure to his world.
      I can’t wait to keep reading, and can’t wait to keep seeing everyone’s blogs. They are truly perceptive and really help me to understand the novel on a more profound level. Thank you good luck, and have a great Thanksgiving:)!

  10. danielleneadwork

    Hey everyone!

    Sorry this is a bit delayed (even more than Caeli :), I was in SLC), and I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

    First off, all of your blogs have been truly insightful and have shown me the book is new lights. I have really enjoyed reading through all of them multiple times before writing this. In response to Erica’s mention about the switch between time periods, although at first I found this troubling and somewhat confusing as I mentioned earlier in the first quarter, as I have read more, each seems to make more and more sense as time goes on. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together and shape into one large story framed in my mind and as you said, I am extremely intrigued to learn the events which occur in between what we already know. The fast-forward sections have also specifically given me insight on reasons for events in the main parts of the book and how Werner and Marie-Laure will eventually intertwine.

    More on how the two main characters will connect, the second quarter of the book really allowed me to grasp the details of how this will happen. I feel as if Doerr is slowly building up to this expected event, yet I believe the pieces are fitting together a bit too easily, almost. I think that when it seems to be positively going in a certain direction where they are bound to meet, some tragedy will occur to possibly delay this from happening. For example, their worlds are already so similar because of this new discovery of Werner and Jutta’s professor being Uncle Etienne. I was not shocked by this because I was expecting something similar to happen, yet it is just one tiny piece of the puzzle. They are also on different sides of WWII, creating a large boundary on how they will meet. This is merely a thought, and see what you think.

    Expanding on what Caeli wrote about, I found that I agreed very strongly with your thoughts on Marie-Laure and Werner’s perspectives. Marie-Laure’s is heavily influenced by her blindness and her father, while Werner is shaped mostly by his sister’s opinions, as well as by himself. I think that Marie-Laure is actually even more perceptive to the world despite her blindness, because she has always had to fight her way through it, with the encouragement from her father, which has caused her to become extremely insightful to what she hears and connecting different ideas together. In contrast though, Werner relies on his own mind and intelligence for all of his ideas, with the occasional help from his sister, who he trusts as well. He has never had the experience of having to think a new way or discover thoughts a new way, which is not necessarily bad, just different from Marie-Laure, and in my opinion makes his perception of the world just a little bit weaker. In addition, with Olivia’s concept of a negative tone from Werner when he says that the two men “have only two canteens of water, each half-empty” (211), this made me realize how Werner’s perspective is usually more on the pessimistic side when we hear from him, while Marie-Laure usually tries to make the best of things, even through her struggle of blindness and her imprisoned father-just an observation.

    Lastly (sorry for the mixed jumble of ideas this time), I had not consciously realized the constant use of numbers as Caeli wrote about, and how it connects the two main characters even more, and found it extremely interesting. As I continue to read, I will now think about this more and use it as a puzzle piece to lead up to the connection between Werner and Marie-Laure.

    I am excited to further read this story and especially find out how this meeting will happen. Enjoy the rest of break!

  11. Hi guys!
    As you can see, I’m extremely late, I was in Sunriver the entire break and did not have time to post! Sorry! I do agree with all of you that Werner is majorly influenced by his sister, and I noticed that no matter how hard he tries to attempt to repair his relationship with his sister, he ultimately fails because she feels abandoned. I believe abandonment is an extremely prominent theme in the novel, as Werner abandons his sister to join the war effort, and Marie-Laure feels abandoned by her father when he is taken by the Germans. I also believe that because Werner feels guilty about abandoning his little sister, he drives himself to be better in the army and does so to make her proud.
    Another aspect of the novel that I noticed was when Marie-Laure and her Uncle Etienne were forced to throw away their radios. When they were attempting to hide the evidence that they had a radio, the author writes, “They push, rest, push, rest. Eventually the wardrobe settles in front of the little door, and the entrance to the attic is walled off. Etienne jacks up each foot again, pulls out the rags, and sinks to the floor, breathing hard, and Marie-Laure sits beside him. Before dawn rolls across the city, they are asleep.” (182). Although Marie-Laure and Etienne had gotten along fine beforehand, I believe this moment is when they truly began to trust each other, and grow to love each other as well. Like Erica and Emmy stated, I also believe Marie-Laure and Etienne have a similar relationship to Boo Radley and Scout, as both bond over one’s reclusiveness based on their troubled past.
    I also find Werner’s relationship with Hauptmann very interesting as well, as seem to have a positive relationship, yet it seems both characters seem reluctant to get to know each other. On one of the nights that Werner is working on math, the author states, “Yet the very next night, Hauptmann’s manner will be frighteningly closed; he invites no questions and supervises Werner’s work in silence.” (183). Hauptmann is the man that becomes Werner’s mentor, in times that he seems to not have anyone to root for him. However, he is a serious man that tries to push Werner to be the best he can be, however, he seems to enjoy Werner’s company.
    So far, I have been enjoying this novel immensely, and I can’t wait to finish the next half of the novel.
    Once again, sorry for the late reply!

  12. ericachiang

    3/4, pgs. 267-393

    Hi guys! Over Thanksgiving break, I read this quarter of the book and tried to stop there, knowing I would appreciate the restraint later when a quarter of the book was left for me to read… I know I’m not the only one, but that did not work out so well, so yes, I did finish the book; although I am disappointed I have reached the end, I would like to say right now that it is an INCREDIBLY profound and amazing book. I promise I will not spoil anything, although this will be difficult because the last quarter is where everything comes together! Haha. This book is just astounding and one of my favorites. I am greatly looking forward to all of your interpretations and insightful comments as you make your way to/through the best part of the novel 🙂

    A major turning point in the novel for Marie-Laure is when Madame Manec passes away. Without Madame Manec, the two LeBlancs are left with no adequate, direct connection to the outside world; as was brought up when discussing the second quarter of the book, Etienne is too fearful of the world’s malice, while courageous Marie-Laure’s disability prevents her from feeling completely secure in public. While the loss affects everything about daily life for Marie-Laure and Etienne, Doerr’s description of Madame Manec when a stranger “lifts [her] and carries her out into the street and sets her on a horse cart as though she is a bag of milled oats” (Doerr 298-299) exemplifies the tragedies of World War II. With so many deaths during this time, even someone so meaningful, courageous, and kind was lost in the sea of all those who died during the war. After getting to know Madame, this apathetic and degrading treatment leaves me feeling heartbroken and frustrated. Madame Manec had a far-reaching impact on the town of Saint-Malo, and even though she left the book so soon, she was clearly “alive before she died.” Etienne’s question to Marie-Laure, “This will happen even now? Without Madame?” (322) displays her prominent position in the vanguard of the indirect resistance against the Germans. However, even after Madame Manec is gone, Madame Ruelle still risks her life by distributing bread with secret numbers inside, proving that Madame Manec’s intrepid spirit still inspires the souls of the brave inhabitants of Saint-Malo.

    I am sorry to make this such a morbid post, but another aspect I found interesting about this quarter is Daniel LeBlanc’s disappearance and the effect on Marie-Laure. When he first goes missing, Marie-Laure almost gives up trying to survive, but when she does regain hope that he will return some day, he makes occasional appearances in her life. I have noticed two forms in which he appears: in his letters and when Marie-Laure imagines hearing his voice. Although it is never directly stated, his letters obviously bring great joy to Marie-Laure. I found myself almost laughing at his letters, and I am sure they cheered Marie-Laure up, or at the very least, reassured her that he was still alive and well (enough). As time passes, it is almost as if Daniel LeBlanc does return to Saint Malo after all; she hears his voice when she needs help, and she listens to and depends on him just as she used to. But, whether she incorrectly guesses what he will say, or she has simply become more independent, his company finds a way to amplify his absence. When Marie-Laure hides in the attic, she is starving, but she hears her father say, “Don’t.” In response, she thinks, “If I keep listening to you Papa, I will die of starvation with food in my hands” (377-378). The voices show how much she misses her father and how much has changed since he left. She hears his voice because she feels that she needs him, yet her resistance against his instinct shows that now she must look after herself and trust her OWN instincts. What frustrates me the most is that Madame Manec and Mr. LeBlanc are both lost and we find out the Sea of Flames was in Etienne’s house all along. I wish Daniel LeBlanc had disposed of the diamond on the first day he gained its possession, but I would like to believe that these losses were coincidental; after all, humans were killed indiscriminately during World War II, and such tragedies were more common than “drowning [and] snakebite” (21)… I would be interested to hear your reactions and and what you thought about this.

    For those of you that have not finished yet, have a great time reading the rest of All the Light We Cannot See!

    • Hi Erica,
      I agree with you on many counts, particularly that of the book being amazing. 🙂 I think you have a very interesting point about how the death of Madame Manec causes Etienne and Marie-Laure to lose their final tangible connection to the outside world. However, perhaps this loss kindles the spark which drives Etienne to be “alive before [he dies]” (Doerr 270). Being dependent upon Madame Manec to assuage and coddle all his feelings of fear and despair has drained him of any motivation to immerse himself in the world, but her death brings a need to fill the role she played in his household: namely, that of a powerful individual who is not afraid of the world and who is willing to make a difference. In this way, Erica’s point is proven again, for Madame’s persistent spirit pushes Etienne to his very limits. Going off of what Erica said, this influence balances out the anonymity of the “bag of milled oats” which every corpse inevitably became during World War II. If, for every death, someone was left behind who was inspired to fight evil or reach out to others, then perhaps all of those deaths were not in vain. Madame Manec exemplifies the importance of maintaining this balance in order to keep the hopelessness of the war at bay.

      I also agree with Erica in that Daniel LeBlanc returns to Marie-Laure in spirit, if not in body. His disappearance has the same kind of implications as Madame Manec’s death: although he is absent from the world of his loved ones, his spirit still continues to influence those loved ones for the better. I almost feel that Monsieur LeBlanc’s disappearance may actually have been BENEFICIAL to the development of Marie-Laure’s character, if not to the state of her emotions. I promise that I am not an unfeeling soul and that I truly wish for Monsieur LeBlanc to physically return; I simply believe that Marie-Laure was too dependent on her father for everything, just as Etienne was too dependent on Madame Manec. With the loss of both of these guiding influences, both Marie-Laure and Etienne must work to face their own demons instead of turning to others to dispel the problems. As Erica stated, when Marie-Laure is in the attic, she learns to listen to her own opinions and voice as well as to those of her father, showing her newfound independence. For example, when she makes the decision to eat the can of beans, she notices that “Inside her head, her father has gone quiet” (378). She still hears his voice, but it does not dictate every action she performs, and thus she may have more say in her own life.

      One of the other interesting things I noticed was the correlation between von Rumpel’s illness and the progression of the war for the Nazis. As von Rumpel’s illness worsens, so too does the Nazis’ chance of victory in World War II. Von Rumpel, therefore, might be a symbol of the Germans’ progress: at first, the Nazis attain success and seem likely to conquer all of Europe, just as von Rumpel has such initial success with finding the fake diamonds. However, the Allies soon launch spirited attacks against the Nazis and defeat seems quite probable, just as von Rumpel’s cancer begins to take over. Hopefully, knowing the outcome of World War II, this means that von Rumpel will never find the Sea of Flames and will leave Marie-Laure unharmed.

      Finally, I wish to call attention to Werner’s oft-repeated statement that “The entropy of a closed system never decreases” (276). I believe that perhaps the “closed system” in this case indicates the entire Nazi regime, which does not allow new ideas, diversity, or compassion. As a result of this restriction, the “entropy,” or disorder in the system, “never decreases.” In this case, the “entropy” may mean the overall chaotic cruelty of the Nazis, for their philosophy is based upon emotion and prejudice rather than solid facts. The more the system becomes closed in, the more this cruelty may manifest itself. On a more optimistic note, perhaps the entropy symbolizes the unrest and rebellion amongst the people whom the Nazis oppress. At any rate, one receives the distinct impression that something or someone must give – and if that something is not the entropy, then the closed system must soon become an open system. From my perspective, this could be seen as foreshadowing for the defeat of the Nazi regime, for although nothing foreign may enter, none of the hostile resentment may leave, and thus tension and resistance build.

      On that happy note, have fun reading and posting everybody! See you on Monday!

  13. emmymarkgraf

    Like Erica, I have finished the book and definitely agree that this book is one that I will be constantly picking up to reread. It’s taken a place among my favorites and I wish that there was a sequel. I agree with Erica that during the third quarter Marie-Laure becomes more independent and explores her limits. She listens to her father’s voice and takes into account his opinions but at the same time she grows up and learns to make her own choices. In regard to Erica’s thoughts about how Daniel LeBlanc should have disposed of the diamond on the first day that he got it. I thought that if it wasn’t for the diamond, the story would have been completely different, but I think that Daniel LeBlanc would never throw the diamond away. He was entrusted with the diamond and he was very loyal to his job, so throwing the diamond away, while it might help his family it would be betraying the trust that the museum had in him.

    I also noticed that there is a juxtaposition when Madame Manec dies and when Marie-Laure is allowed to go out to the bread shop by herself. Madame Manec died a sad death, and like Marie-Laure says, “Housemaid, nurse, mother, confederate, counselor, chef—what ten thousands things was Madame Manec” (320). Her sad death was juxtaposed with the fact of Marie-Laure gaining her freedom to go out in the town. This juxtaposition shows that although Madame Manec’s death was a tragic event life must go on or as Marie-Laure says, “everything else keeps living, that the spinning earth does not pause for even an instant in its trip around the sun” (320). This juxtaposition signals the end of Madame Manec but also signals a new beginning for Marie-Laure, where she gets the freedom to go to town and assume Madame Manec’s role in taking care of Marie-Laure.

    In addition, during this section we see Werner grow up, from 16 to 18, in a couple of moments. After he becomes older, he is placed into an army unit. Throughout the previous part of the book we see Werner being portrayed as a character who is sometimes very cold; however, in this section Doerr begins to portray Werner as soft character, one that has feelings. One day Werner and Volkheimer were investigating a house when Neumann Two kills a woman and a young child. Werner was in utter shock. Doerr writes, “Threads of nausea reach up around Werner’s windpipe… Werner climbs into the Opel, feeling as if the buildings are rearing around him, growing taller and warping. He sits with his forehead against the listening decks and is sick between his shoes” (368-369). Werner’s reaction of “threads of nausea” shows that he is not just senselessly standing by and watching people get killed. He feels compassion, pity, and plain sickness from witnessing the horrors. This display of feelings by Werner allows for the reader to become more attached to him. The stereotypical German soldier would normally lack any sign of emotion. However, in Werner seems to be one of the most humanized characters in the story, perhaps because of his humble beginnings. The choice to portray Werner with emotions, demonstrates that even faceless soldiers show emotions and have backgrounds and stories that we don’t know about.

    Overall the book keeps getting better and better, and I can’t wait to write about the ending. SPOILER: it’s an action packed ending:)

  14. Like Erica and Emmy, I have also finished the book, as stopping seemed to be much too hard of a task when faced with such an engrossing read. Nonetheless, I feel like the ending was perfectly built up from this quarter of the novel, though I will have to restrain myself lest I let something slip and spoil the book for those who have not yet finished. ☺

    When reading the book, I agree with all of you guys that Madam Manec’s influence upon the characters of Etienne and Marie-Laure is one that is vastly significant, and I believe her passing, like that of the loss of her father, to bring about a positive impact upon both characters. The two are all restricted in some way—Etienne with his inability to cope with his fears, and Marie-Laure with her blindness, causing them to depend upon another in an all-encompassing manner. When Madame Manec lived, they relied upon her to complete their everyday tasks, as shown in the conversation between Etienne and Marie-Laure: “ ‘We should make supper. It doesn’t appear that Madame will be back tonight.’ Neither of them moves.” (284) Perhaps more important is the manner of which she has provided a personalized blanket of comfort—a blindfold, perhaps— in the way she has “tended [Etienne’s] fears. Skirted them, mitigated them.” (269) The sudden removal of this shroud of blissful ignorance forces them to confront their demons and find a way to alleviate their troubles. As Elena noted, Madame Manec has brought about the spark that motivates both the characters and the townspeople to rebel against the oppressive force of the Germans, being the overseer of the management of Saint-Malo’s defiance and that too, of an arousing source of inspiration for Etienne and Marie-Laure. As Etienne and Marie-Laure argue on their act of rebellion, Marie-Laure notes, “I want to do it. Madame would want—” (322), thus demonstrating how, even in the aftermath of her death, Madam Manec continues to be a cause of motivation and reanimation for the characters. Going off of what Emmy noted, Madame Manec’s presence seems to be one that is all encompassing, and brings about a foundation of which both Etienne and Marie-Laure find their freedom and rediscover a most-missed sense of vibrancy. Despite the tragic consequences of her death and post-mortem dehumanization, it is an act that ‘kindles’ a spark of life and brings about a positive impact.

    Something else that I found intriguing is how the motif of the radio returns yet again, bringing life and meaning to the characters of the novel. The early freedom and illumination of which this device inspires is one that pervades through the entire novel, and just as much as it embodies a sense of entrapment with Werner and his commands to eliminate those who use it, it more importantly represents a window towards a better life. As Etienne and Marie-Laure are revitalized into action with the act of transmission, they find their world to be now vividly hued with varying shades of deliverance and enlightenment: “The little attic [was] bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then [when] the radio switches off and the gray rushes back in.” (353) It is interesting to note how the radio seems to bring a spectrum of incandescence to the character’s lives, filling them with purpose and in the manner of Madame Manec, acts as a source of reinvigoration. Etienne, who has spent the majority of his adult life hiding from his ghosts, is now brought out of his self-imposed exile, and finds himself awash in a world of color—in a world of visible light, where his shadows are overcome by its power: “…it has been over a month since he has had to curl up against the wall…and pray that he does not see ghosts shambling through the walls… when he’s opening the tiny scroll in his fingers, lowering his mouth to the microphone, he feels unshakable; he feels alive.” (331) With the radio, the characters find purpose, fulfillment and a renewed sense of life, and without it, they find themselves entrapped within a dull existence of gray. Here, it seems, I will echo some of the earlier blog posts about the freedom and entrappment of the radio, as though it may bring about a favorable outcome, it too ensnares one within a net of selectivity and limitation.

    Overall, I am very excited about the novel and still engrossed within its myriad of captivating elements, and for those who have not yet finished, happy reading! ☺

  15. danielleneadwork

    Hi!
    Although I have not yet finished the book, reading what you have all said makes me very excited to do so!

    Erica, I think you make a very valid point that I agree with when you say that Madame Manec’s death is such a turning point in the story. As you said, I think that she left them with two completely different ways of being half-connected to the world. Their discrepancies caused them to have to bond and work together to survive and navigate the real world on their own, yet together. Madame Manec was clearly “alive before she died” (Doerr 320). I find this statement particularly true because all of the small and larger rebellions were started by Madame Manec, and she really started a revolution to fight back in her community. Her pushing also finally caused Uncle Etienne to come out of his shell a little bit and broadcast codes and messages in the attic. If it weren’t for Madame Manec before she died, none of this would have happened.

    When Cami discussed in her blog post the importance of the radio, you used the quote “The little attic [was] bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then [when] the radio switches off and the gray rushes back in” (Doerr 353). I connected this vivid description to that of Death’s in The Book Thief. The radio and the colors it gave off were described in such detail and imagery that it was just like how Death saw everything based off of colors and what they seemed like. I found this interesting because both added to the imagery of the story and made it even more interesting to read.

    Madame Manec said in the beginning of this quarter of the novel, “Do you know what happens, Etienne,…when you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water?…It jumps out. But do you know what happens when you put the frog in a pot of cool water and then slowly bring it to a boil?…The frog cooks” (Doerr 285). Then later in the novel Uncle Etienne said, “I wonder, who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (Doerr 328). This caught my attention because when I first read that first quote, I assumed the frog was referring to the Madame’s plans of resistance, as she could not just go bomb the Germans or be hasty like that. They had to do small things, such as bake the codes into the bread, and print the railroad timetables incorrectly, so that these efforts would slowly build up and simmer, in order for their plans to be effective. So, when Uncle Etienne brought up this point of her implying two other, different meanings, I was surprised as I had not even thought of the possibility of these before. I think that she may have been implying the analogy to a number of things, including all three of these. One way that my thoughts were supported specifically was when Uncle Etienne told Marie-Laure that what they were broadcasting on the radio was a much larger rebellion. This was showing how their plans were slowly building up to a greater rebellion over time, I think.

    Lastly, to address my last post in which I started thinking about the importance of numbers in this novel, the numerical codes baked into the loaves of bread have intrigued me very much. It is yet another example of how numbers are used to shape this story and in the craft of the writing, it is quite a insightful addition in my opinion.

    I am so excited to finish this action-packed ending, yet sad that it is coming to a close, as it is just such a profound reading that I am enjoying so much.

  16. Hi guys! (why do I always start my posts like this?)
    I feel like the book has gotten progressively better as I read further into the novel! It is becoming almost impossible to put down, and I am utilizing all of my willpower to read the book slowly…however, I feel I am failing. So far, I agree with all of you in the fact that the disappearance of Marie-Laure’s father positively affected her growth as a person and as a human being, as she is learning to be stronger when dealing with loss and more stressful aspects of her life, such as dealing with her uncle.
    I also agree with the fact that the death of Madam Manec’s death strengthened both Marie-Laure and Etienne, as both of them learn to trust and love each other even more, and grow closer with her passing, despite how Etienne locks himself in his room at the beginning. An aspect of the novel that I find interesting was when Madam Manec talks about the frogs to Marie-Laure and her uncle and says, “It jumps out. But do you know what happens when you put the frog in a pot of cool water and slowly bring it to boil? You know what happens then?” (285). I found this quote interesting, as I believe that Madam was speaking of the Germans, and how they are always quick to conquer other countries, and arrest people when they have done almost nothing wrong. However, the more they keep prosecuting and punishing the people, the more they fall into their own traps, as the people do not want to serve anymore and be apart of their system.
    Another aspect of the novel that I found fascinating was when Werner was called into battle.
    When Werner is first called, he is told by an official that states, “It has come to our attention, cadet, that your age has been recorded incorrectly.”
    “Sir?”
    “You are eighteen years old. Not sixteen, as you have claimed.”
    “Werner puzzles. The absurdity is plain: he remains smaller than most of the fourteen year olds.” (286).
    I believe that because of the need of soldiers in the war, the Germans were calling in more underage soldiers to battle, which meant that Werner would have to serve. I found it amazing that Werner did not speak up about his true age, but then again, it could have landed him in serious trouble with the government.
    Overall, I am excited to finish this novel, as it is so rich in vocabulary and story lines.
    Enjoy the rest of the novel!

  17. oliviasweng

    Hi everyone,

    Usually, when I read books to write this literary paragraphs on, I find I have a hard time fully enjoying the book, when I have to be thinking about the symbols, etc. But this last quarter, I was completely engrossed and I would’ve continued on, if not for the deadline on this blog post – shows a lot on how great of a book this has turned out to be so far.

    In response to several comments about the change in perspectives / time, I initially thought it was a bit confusing, and I did not fully understand what was going on. Now, though, I feel that it now moves the book along, and it drives me to keep on reading, with the suspense used. Instead of causing confusion like it used to, it now draws me in and is incredibly interesting, probably one of the reasons this past quarter was such a good read for me.

    Also mentioned above about the influence of Daniel LeBlanc on Marie-Laure, I agree with the insightful comments made about her father’s voice in Marie-Laure’s head, while she hides in the closet. To further emphasize this point, there was a passage in the book that I felt really showed the influence her father continues to have on her. She is in the closet, and her mind is racing with what to do, with the man in the house. She thinks, “Scream. Die. Papa” (sorry, I do not have the page numbers, I have a pdf file and the numbers are all messed up). Anyways, these three words were all on a different line, signifying their importance. When I read this, I thought of it as how Marie-Laure first turns to her instincts of fear, and has the urge to scream. Of course, any normal human being in her circumstance would surely encounter the paralyzing fear she feels, and screaming is a natural way to respond. Next she moves on to the word ‘die’. This, I feel, embodies one of her fears (and basically the fears of a vast amount of people in novel), and she has the thought of death. Yet, these two emotions that would normally overcome a person in her situation are not the last thoughts Marie-Laure has. Instead, she thinks, ‘Papa’. Even in her worst situation, she relies and goes back to the comfort of her father. Though this does not contradict any of the statements made above, I just thought this quote further showed the influence Marie-Laure’s father has on her.

    I found something interesting in Werner’s life, regarding Volkheimer. Obviously, he is terrible for killing all those people, and taking the clothes of prisoners when he knows they will die without it – I will not argue that he is a good person. But I noticed throughout sections that he does have another side to him that is directed towards Werner. For example, Volkheimer “looks at Werner. His voice tender, almost melancholy”. There is another instance where “a gentleness flows into Volkheimer’s eyes and hangs there a moment”. Even Werner notices it, seeing “Volkheimer who always makes sure there is food for Werner. Who brings him eggs, who shares his broth, whose fondness for Werner remains, it seems, unshakable”. Yes, I know Volkheimer is not a good person, but like Emmy mentioned above about Werner’s soft side, Volkheimer has one too, just not directed towards the general population. Instead, he has a fondness for Werner that shows he is not just a soldier, but he does care in a sense for others (Werner). I know it looks like I may be portraying Volkheimer in a more positive light (trust me, I can clearly see he does terrible things), but one could also argue that Werner has caused as many deaths – he is the one who finds the people that Volkheimer and their group kill. It is just in an indirect way. All in all, I think these two characters show the misconception of all Germans during WW2 being complete villains with no feelings whatsover (even though there were plenty of those, just not all).

    Another quick note: I found the analogy of the boiling frog that Madame made to be very interesting. Initially, I thought of the Germans as the frog, with Madame and her group quietly doing small things as a form of a resistance (the cold water), and their actions eventually helping the downfall of said Germans (boiling the water once the frog is placed in cold water, so it will not run away). But Etienne made a comment wondering whether or not Madame was the frog or the Germans, and this surprised me, because I had never thought of it in that way. What do you guys think?

    Also, for the ending chapter of this 3rd quarter made me quite incredibly excited. I couldn’t go on, (because I have other homework (; ), but it made me really excited because it was the first time Werner and Marie-Laure somewhat meet and connect in the story. It is also during a very suspenseful time [that I really wanted to continue reading about] for Marie-Laure, which further fueled my excitement to read further. I completely agree with how Emmy and Erica both said they could not stop reading and finished the book instead. That’s how I feel, except I had to personally force myself to stop reading, with excuses of other obligations. Let’s just say I was pretty excited… yes, very excited. :))

    • 4th Quarter: pg. 393-530

      Hi everyone! Wow, we finally reached the end. I’m almost going to miss writing these blog posts (okay, not really). I would just like to say that I have loved reading all of your comments and that I have never looked at a book from so many different perspectives before. Thank you so much for all of those insightful posts!

      First of all, I would like to address the elephant in the room: Werner’s death. If you are like me, you probably thought, “WHY, ANTHONY DOERR?” when you read that passage. However, after some thought, I considered the possibility that he died because he was never meant to find happiness or success. Throughout the novel, he was only looking for peace and self-redemption for past wrongs. When he rescued Marie-Laure, he essentially fulfilled that mission and the sense of purpose which was simmering within him ever since he left Zollverein. In a way, his love for Marie-Laure allows him to find the courage to be “what [he] could be” (Doerr 482). He has become what he could be, so his life is complete.

      Throughout the novel and especially in this last quarter, the idea of death and what symbolizes it is especially prominent. Music is one such symbol, for when Werner is lying in the hospital bed a few days before his death, he observes, “Every day, on his right and left, another soul escapes toward the sky, and it seems to him as if he can hear faraway music” (Doerr 481). Music is otherworldly; it carries ideas, hopes, and dreams. Why can’t it carry death as well? I may or may not have mentioned this in an earlier post, but the music “Clair de Lune” means “moonlight.” Whenever it is played, someone is on the brink of death, whether literally or figuratively: Werner hears it in Zollverein as the time when he must work in the coal mines rapidly approaches; he and Volkheimer listen to it down in the collapsed basement of the hotel during the bombing of Saint-Malo; Marie-Laure listens to its strains as she waits in the attic for von Rumpel to find her; and von Rumpel hears it in the last several minutes of his life. When Werner is on the brink of death, he observes, “But the moonlight stays unmoved by the wind, passing through clouds, through air, in what seems to Werner like impossibly slow, imperturbable rays” (Doerr 482). Thus we come back to the “light we cannot see” again, the light perhaps of death and remembered souls. However, Werner can see it, implying his imminent demise. One might not think of electromagnetic waves as a symbol of death, but as Marie-Laure points out on page 529, they can carry messages, commercials, and all sorts of information. Like music, they must be able to transmit memories and the idea of lost ones as well.

      Finally, the book’s fast-forward to the future at the ending portrays all the characters as engaged in a struggle to find closure in a world that has largely moved on from World War II. They have all had to cope with unimaginable losses, yet the little house which was the carrier of the Sea of Flames brings Volkheimer, Jutta, and Marie-Laure together to help them come to terms with their traumatic memories. Speaking of the Sea of Flames, I do not believe that it was ever cursed itself. Man brought about the curse through his greed and folly. Now that the Sea of Flames lies at the bottom of the ocean, perhaps humans will choose a new, more compassionate path. After all, if Werner could leave the gem and his crueler urges behind, then perhaps that is within the ability of the rest of humanity.

      Have fun reading everyone! Also, have a wonderful Winter Break and do something enjoyable after reading this blog post!

      • emmymarkgraf

        To Elena and everyone, I learned so much from all these posts, and I loved reading them, so thank you. I’m very sad that this book is over. It is probably my favorite book about the Holocaust and World War II in general because it provided a variety of different views; from a German soldier, to a blind French girl fleeing from her home, to a German gem hunter/collector/ sergeant major. I had the very same reaction to Werner’s death. I was so frustrated with Anthony Doerr, almost as frustrated as I was when Markus Zusak killed off Liesel’s foster parents 😦

        I definitely agree with you Elena, on the symbolism of the music in this quarter. It’s amazing what music signaled and foreshadowed for the characters. I think although the music did symbolize death for a variety of characters, I thought that it symbolized courage for Marie-Laure. After five days in the attic Marie Laure resigned her fate. Marie-Laure decides to turn the music up, “as loud as it will go. If the German is in the house, he will hear” (452). Although this does sound like she is awaiting death, to me it sounds as if she has gained enough courage to face death, to look it in the eye, and say I’m not scared.

        Throughout this last quarter, there have been a plethora of ups and downs for the character. I believe that these ups and downs, go with the saying, there’s no big loss without some small gain. For example. After Marie-Laure leaves the bakery and gets cornered by Von Rumpel, it forces Etienne to summon, “all his resolve” (417) in order to step outside. After 35 minutes Etienne, “twists the latch, opens the gate. Steps outside” (418). Although this was a precariously dangerous situation for Etienne, Marie-Laure, and Madame Ruelle and everyone else helping with the indirect resistance, in the end some good came out. Although Marie-Laure ends up very scared she realizes what her father meant when he said, “If you ever wish to understand, look inside Etienne’s house, inside the house. I know you will do the right thing” (426). She figures out that the Sea of Flames is real. Also from this situation, Etienne learns to face his fears. He finally steps outside in a time when someone whom he really cares about needs him. Which reminds me a lot about To Kill a Mockingbird, when Boo Radley saves Scout and Jem from Mr. Ewell who was trying to kill them.

        Like Elena said, it fast forwards to the end and tells about the unimaginable losses of the characters. I almost feel as if Doerr didn’t allow for the emotions to flourish, or develop fully. The time period after the war was very emotionally sensitive to everyone, and by explaining everything in a couple of pages, it didn’t give the emotions enough time to set in and take the full affect. I think Doerr could have made a sequel about how the characters reacted after the war. Since there was so much happening both during the war and after I feel that Doerr ended the book quite abruptly. Does anyone else agree with that? Or am I alone? I hope everyone has a wonderful winter break and a happy new year!

  18. ericachiang

    Hey everyone,
    I too will miss all of your insightful comments, although we still have our final review of the book… Hahaha. Elena, after I read your blog post, I wrote mine. 🙂 By reading all of your comments, I have realized how interesting our contrasting interpretations can be! This has been a great opportunity to share thoughts with each other, especially since this book was one of my all-time favorites.

    In response to Elena’s (and probably everyone’s) main frustration, I would first like to say that Werner’s death was one of the most heartbreaking and poignant that I have ever experienced. As Elena said, Werner was never meant to accomplish anything extraordinary in his life. He was born to be an unloved orphan and was destined to die as one. Werner is clearly stronger than the average orphan, or maybe boy, in general, but he was never meant to find success. He survives the bombing and being trapped under rubble, but dies soon after, killing himself by “cross[ing] the edge of the field, where he steps on a trigger land mine set there by his own army three months before, and disappears in a fountain of earth” (483). Maybe it was expected that he would die during the war, but he did not; he was one of the most fortunate soldiers. SO HOW COULD HE HAVE KILLED HIMSELF BECAUSE OF A FEVER!? The one thing I interpreted differently than Elena is her supposition that Werner does not find happiness. I believe that when he finds Marie-Laure, he has completed all he ever sought for and that he dies happy. This is very similar to what you have said, but rather than this just achieving his fullest potential, he FEELS fulfilled and is not regretful of his life’s choices.

    An interesting aspect of Marie-Laure’s personality is that she remains hopeful throughout the war, even when the odds are excruciatingly slim. When Etienne leaves and is gone much more than the hour which he promised, “She reins in her panic. Important not to assume the worst” (433). Marie-Laure’s father said he would only be gone a week when he left Marie-Laure forever. Madame Manec died when Marie-Laure did not expect it. And yet she still believes her great-uncle may be returning. This keeps her from completely despairing, which might be the reason she survives von Rumpel’s invasion. This trait makes Marie-Laure’s character admirable. She is able to manage by herself even when she cannot see; in addition, she makes her own decisions by staying calm and thinking on her feet, such as when she decides to broadcast Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, leading Werner to her rescue.

    I am so excited to hear what you all have to say about this book! Have a great break 🙂

    As a sidenote, I was planning on posting as soon as I could, but it looks like Emmy beat me to it! Sorry I did not address anything other than Elena’s ideas. I am still looking forward to reading all of your interpretations!!

  19. oliviasweng

    Note: sorry for the late post, but I was gone on a winter retreat for the whole weekend 🙂

    First of all, let me say. It has been a while since I’ve read such a book that will bring me to tears, and yup, I cried a lot reading this quarter. Maybe it’s just these WW2 books that get to me? (I also cried in The Book Thief).

    I think what made this last quarter particularily heartbreaking for me was the small references to the past. There were many references, when Werner recalls listening to the radio as a child with Jutta being only six years old. When Etienne, separated from Marie-Laure, remembers how they read and talked together. They are all little snippets, but they pierce right through me.. One example specifically, is when Jutta goes to visit Marie-Laure all those years later, and Marie-Laure remembers the single line, “We used to pick berries by the Ruhr. My sister and me” (351). (sorry my page numbers are still messed up) This one line made it seem all that sorrowful for me, because it highlights the simple things in life. A small event, but it brought joy and happiness to Jutta and Werner. It also humanizes them, to bring them closer to the reader, I feel. Picking berries is such a plain thing, it let me understand the pain and tragedy Jutta felt from losing her brother. After all, isn’t there a saying that says it is the small things that make up life?

    As Elena saw the “light we cannot see” in relation to death, I also saw it to be able to symbolize the good in people during a time of turmoil. The war is obviously a very dark time, with people dying left and right, but maybe the “light we cannot see” was the good deeds that Werner did. When you think about it, in the story less than 5 people (obviously excluding the readers, since they weren’t actually in the story haha) knew how Werner saved the life of Marie-Laure three times, but nonetheless the people affected could clearly see the light, or the good that happened. This is just one example; many simple acts were conducted by others such as Etienne, Mr. LeBlanc, etc. But when it is but into the grand scale of the whole war, those small acts are somewhat enstinguished by the loss and pain that resulted in the war.

    In response to how Emmy sees the ending as a bit abrupt, I disagree. For one, I saw the survivors were able to clearly show their emotions in depth through the little actions did they did; when Jutta cannot concentrate on grading her papers, or when Marie-Laure feels as if she is tipping over. And even though the ending was shorter, I felt it did well to illustrate the events that happened many years later. Jutta and Marie-Laure both seem like people who would keep their painful emotions shut in and pushed away, and we have to keep in mind that they are now all adults who probably have learned to keep their emotions on the down low. Lastly, I feel like a sequel of the survivors wouldn’t really have a plot, since they have all moved on with their lives, and they all clearly want to keep the painful memories of the war buried away. Even if a sequel was written about right after the war ended, I feel like the characters would have been a bit oddly placed, considering that Werner was essentially what tied them all together – without him, it would just be a series of lives leading to different directions.

    Lastly, there was just one passage I wanted to touch on before I finish writing. It was that paragraph of all the different people in different situations, and what they were doing at that moment. It was when Jutta was sleeping, Hitler was eating breakfast, von Rumpel’s wife getting ready for mass, and the boys at Schulpforta preparing for their eventual slaughter. I felt that it really allowed me to see the individual stories of each person, but at the same time still as a whole. By writing all these people in relation to how many miles away they were from each other, it showed how everyone was really connected in this war, and how each of their lives were vastly different solely because of a few miles. For some reason, this passage deeply resonated with me.

    I’m really glad I got to read and finish this book – I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did… did anyone else cry? Or am I just extremely emotional? XD Oh well, I’ll just have to live with that. Also, have a great winter break everyone!

  20. Hey everyone,

    Like everyone I’m sure, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I totally agree with Emmy on how this is a great interpretation of World War II, especially with its unique perspectives and portrayal of character. This is definitely one of my favorite books to date and I hope that everyone else enjoyed it as well ☺

    Something interesting to me was the repeated imagery of the ocean. When Madame Ruelle brings news of the people’s impending freedom from the Germans, she says, “The mermaids have bleached hair.” (402) Mermaids, a mythical creature of the sea and its connection towards Saint-Malo’s—and perhaps all of France’s liberation from the Nazi party raises particularly interesting concepts of the ocean as a symbol for freedom. A further implication of the ocean is added, beyond Marie-Laure’s constant visits to her private sanctuary at the beach and the origin of the infamous jewel. The ocean then, perhaps represents a release from the real world. Werner expresses this sentiment in his letter to Jutta, “It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes, I catch myself staring at it and forgetting my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.” (405) The sea represents a calming safe haven where the characters are able to escape the harsh realities of the war. Both Werner and Marie-Laure seem to yearn for the sea, as each finds themselves gazing at the all-consuming body of water, they receive a sense of fulfillment with at the beach. The sea seems to be never far from mind. The symbol of the sea, much like that of the music that Marie-Laure plays (or perhaps, one aspect of it), seems to embody and encourage a sense of hope, courage (as Emmy said) and liberty among the downtrodden world that war has created.

    It seems that throughout the novel the diamond was representative of the distortion between ‘light’ and ‘darkness.’ Within the earlier passages of the novel, Marie-Laure remarks to the professor, “I heard that the diamond is like a piece of light from the original world. Before it fell. A piece of light rained to earth from God.” (52) Perhaps, the diamond, too, is a part of those all-encompassing rays of light that permeate throughout the novel. However, despite the positive aspects of the diamond, it too, brings with it a “curse” (430) of which its bearer shall never escape. The stone seems to generate a dual sense of both uplifting hope and cruel infatuation—and this is especially shown in the case of Von Rumpel. Though von Rumpel has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few months to live, he is fueled by the hope that the stone will cure him, and he continued to pursue the stone even when the disease has progressed so far that he would barely walk. Like a double-sided coin, with each ‘flip’ it brings with it either harmony and peace or with ruthless savagery and obsessive insanity. The Sea-of-Flames pushes those around it to recognize the limits of their own humanity and choose the next path to undertake—whether to be consumed in one’s selfish desires or to free humanity from the ‘clouds’ of darkness and once again perceive the ‘light that we cannot see.’ Even Marie-Laure is not able to resist the temptation of “five Eiffle towers” (429) and thus, perhaps when Werner is able to complete this task, a more progressive step towards humanity has been taken.

    As for the abrupt ending that Emmy mentioned, I disagree (or in that case, agree with Olivia. ☺ ) Olivia mentioned that Doerr’s portrayal of the characters in their small actions demonstrated the depth of their emotions instead of contributing towards a sense of fulfillment—I completely agree with this point. However, I also believe that the abrupt structure of the last few pages allows the audience to, in a way, empathize with what the survivors have experienced on a higher level than one established upon pages and pages of exposition. The shell-shock of the sudden actions that have contributed towards the result of the war is reflected within these succinct passages. The war has begun and ended in unexpected ways, and such an abrupt ending seems to further emphasize the fickle life of which one leads. Moreover, such an act by Doerr places additional weight on the small moments that are capable of turning one’s entire life upside down.

    I have throughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that everyone has too! Have a great break everyone! 🙂

  21. liliperez22

    Hi everyone!
    I absolutely loved the entire novel, and am honestly completely disappointed that I have finished it. I feel that the portrayal of World War II was realistic and completely original, as the novel did not touch so much upon the fighting and the holocaust as it did the emotional turmoil that the characters had to face. Also, I also disagree with Emmy, but also see her point, as I loved the ending to this novel, and in my opinion it gave us a good look in to the lives of the characters all grown up. It also gives us a peek into the eyes of Jutta, whom had been absent for almost the entirety of the novel, and for a long time we had no idea what was happening with her. However, it did seem to end suddenly, as with the death of Werner, whose fate was decided within a half a page in the novel.
    Also, when Olivia said that she believed that “all the light we cannot see” was representing Werner’s good deeds, I actually believe it has to do with Marie-Laure and the radio. I believe that because of Marie-Laure’s broadcasts on the radio, Werner was given the strength he needed to fight in the war. Marie-Laure inspires Werner in many aspects in life, and becomes his light that he cannot see, as when the author writes, “Werner thinks of her, whether he wishes to or not. Girl with a cane, girl in a gray dress, girl made of mist.” (423). She is also the way that Werner retains his humanity in the war, as she gives him a glimpse into the other side of the war, and the lives of innocent civilians that are caught up in the war. Also, because Werner was listening to the radio, other people were probably listening as well, and were comforted by Marie-Laure. That way, Marie-Laure and the radio were the light that they could not see.
    Also, I forgot to add, that as much as I HATED the way that Werner was killed off, I found it was actually realistic. If they had left all the characters we cared about alive, it would have been unrealistic for the story. World War II was a time in which millions of people perished, and the circumstances that Werner was facing almost made it inevitable that something was to happen to him. Also, I found that how Marie-Laure never found her father was extremely depressing, but also respected Doer’s decision to leave his fate ambiguous. When people were sent to prisons during World War II, sometimes their fates were never discovered.
    Another part of the novel that I enjoyed reading were the relationships that Anthony Doer created between all of the characters. One relationship I enjoyed watching grow as I read the novel was the bond between Etienne and Marie-Laure. From the beginning of the novel, the two of them were instantly drawn toward each other, as each were limited in certain ways. Soon, after the disapearance of Marie’s father, and the death of Madame Manec, the two became the only family each other had. When Marie-Laure was held up by the Germans, Etienne (who is a recluse) forces himself out of his house to save her, as the author writes, “His heart beats icily in a faraway cage. Headache coming, he thinks. Terrible terrible terrible headache. Twenty heartbeats. Thirty-five minutes. He twists the latch, opens the gate. Steps outside.” (418). Because of his love for his great niece, Etienne risks everything he has in order to get her safely back home, even if it meant leaving his home which he had stayed in for years.
    I am terribly sad that I have finished this novel, and say goodbye to this blog! (Well, we have one more final entry…) Have a good rest of your break, and see you on monday!

  22. danielleneadwork

    Hey everyone! (this was written after Cami’s post but did not post for some reason)

    These posts have been so great to read and I have really enjoyed all of the insightful and profound comments that have been written by you all, so thank you so much for that. I have loved this book, and am sad it has finally come to a close.

    First of all, to add on to Elena and Erica’s ideas about Werner’s death, I agree that him finding Marie-Laure and their stories finally connecting brought a sense of happiness into his life. It fulfilled a missing part of his story and to him, now that the war was over, it seemed like the event to complete his life. I think he did not know where else to go after, and a fever seemed like just a nudge in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong, I was also thinking NO, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!, although I guess he just had nothing left to live for. The one thing would be Jutta, his beloved sister, except for the fact that he had not contacted or seen her in so long, and the war totally separated the two. I suppose Werner no longer wanted to burden Jutta with his condition at war and did not need to be a part of her longing anymore. I completely disagree with his mindset though!! It is extremely selfish for him to walk onto a land mind for such foolish reasons, and his mind was obviously in distress from the war and the fever, not thinking clearly. That said, there should have been more of an effort to stop and save him at least-not “Across the field, an American watches a boy leave the sick tent and move against the background of the trees. He sits up. He raises his hand” (Doerr 483). That’s it?! He merely then says stop and halt and watches it happen. This especially frustrated me because it was right after Werner managed to actually survive the war-an extremely fortunate and relatively rare occurrence! He had a chance-and he ruined it!!

    I appreciated the flash forward to 2014 by Anthony Doerr because it was so interesting how these characters we go to know so well would live in our world now-at least Marie-Laure. I especially found the part about the internet and electromagnetic waves intriguing, because for me, it tied the whole story back to one of the main guiding symbols of the novel, the radio. When Michel is playing Warlords, a video game, she “imagines the electromagnetic waves traveling into and out of Michel’s machine, bending around them, just as Etienne used to describe, except now a thousand times more crisscross the air than when he lived-maybe a million times more” (Doerr 529). As she continues on for almost a page about these, especially the antennas similar to the radios she had during the war, Marie-Laure is able to reminisce about how her own world has transformed into a life without the awful war, growing millions of times larger even. I was glad she was able to do this, and complete her story and knowledge as far as we know it today.

    This book has been one of my favorites, ever, and I hope you have all enjoyed it just as much, and I found parts extremely glum as well, Olivia, haha. 🙂

  23. caeligriffin

    Hello hello everyone! Thank you for your thoughts, and interpretations and ideas! With any luck, they will be a huge help as we approach English finals (oh joy!!!!). This novel is obviously multi-faceted, a feature which contributes immensely to the overall value of the book. I feel that it is only just ambiguous enough in its use of literary devices to allow for a lasting, deep, impression. It seems that when ideas are forced upon people which contradict their principles, the significance of the idea lessens. ATLWCS however, as shown by our last three blog posts, is open to interpretation. The horrible, shocking, unnerving facts are presented along with the heartwarming, and then we get to draw our judgements on the world, and the human race. How profound.
    In continuing on the thread of interpretation, I completely agree with Emmy, Cami, and Lilli in saying that the novel is a lovely interpretation of World War II. One of the sole “faults” I have continued to find, though, about this story, is that it is completely unrealistic. What are the odds that a German boy is plucked out of the coal mines for his self-taught math and science skills, and then sent to an elite school so that he may become as great as Hitler and someday help to rule the world? And not only that, but amid the chaos of the war, a blind girl is left guardian-less in the middle of a bombing with the most precious rock in the country? And lastly, they meet, he saves her life, and they (sort of) live happily ever after???? Sure, the exact circumstances are improbable to say the least, but this is a story, not a textbook. I believe that the novel did everything that it was intended to. It evoked intense sorrow, excitement, anger, shock and thoughtfulness, and in doing so conveyed the many emotions tied to the war. It is so difficult for people who have never been touched by such deep sentiment and tragedy to experience the empathy necessary to appreciate the full weight of war. As Elena called them, the “WHY ANTHONY DOERR?” moments especially help us to dip a finger into the waterfall of emotion that so many still feel in regards to WWII.
    Another very open-ended concept within the novel is the Sea of Flames. I feel that the diamond presents two constantly contradicting themes: Science vs. Legend. Near the end, as Elena mentioned, the stone is tossed to the bottom of the ocean. And, this single action is the final battle of those two themes. On one side, the diamond, naturally, meant nothing. It was never cursed, and its disposal will change nothing. In contrast, perhaps the curse was washed away with the waves, and people are on a new, more compassionate path. As I considered this more and more, I grew more and more frustrated. Just like Elena I was optimistically hoping that with the end of the Sea of Flames would come the end of world-wide massacre, but never thought the gem was cursed. I was conflicted, and I couldn’t pick just one side. So possibly, I wasn’t meant to. We people are always pulled two ways by realism and imagination, and we usually end up somewhere in between. This is perhaps best summed up by author Jess Walter’s review of the book: “All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the mythic and the intimate, about snails on beaches and armies on the move, about fate and love and history and those breathless, unbearable moments when they all come crashing together.”
    Yeah, the story came crashing down. It came down hard. But the pieces didn’t fall on two sides of a chalked-up line. They fell like pick-up sticks do, and now we attempt to extract them as best we can.

    I hope everybody had a fantastic break, enjoyed the snow, and has an even better time sleeping in tomorrow morning!

    • It is time for that final blog post everybody! Now, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be reviewing, but I’ll do my best to ramble on about how amazing the book was.
      For those who haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the story deftly weaves together the lives of a French girl named Marie-Laure and a German boy named Werner Pfeffinger. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her kind, clever father. He works at the Museum of Natural History as a locksmith, and uses his crafting skills to create a tiny model of the neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can learn to navigate the area herself. Werner lives in a children’s home in Zollverein, Germany, where all the boys are sent to work in the coal mines at the age of fifteen. However, as World War II looms, two objects shatter Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s lives, pulling them away from the places they know: a precious stone called the Sea of Flames and a radio. As both are swept up in the current of war, their fates slowly draw them together.
      This book combines a dramatic, fast-paced plot with numerous poignant moments throughout, accurately reflecting how the action of World War II was always tempered by loss and heartbreak. Several phrases such as “The entropy of a closed system never decreases” (276) or “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (264) repeat throughout the novel, creating symbolism and adding a deeper meaning to seemingly trivial sentences. The idea of light is, of course, quite prominent, lending itself to several different interpretations and setting the stage for other ideas. In addition, the character development is quite intriguing. Most of the characters are fairly dynamic, and one can track their struggles to overcome their fears and weaknesses throughout the novel. With all of this, the reader must learn to read between the lines in order to perceive every idea that is woven through the story.
      As Caeli mentioned in her blog post, ATLWCS is also unusual in that it blends together simple moments such as the birthday celebrations of Marie-Laure with the epic movements of war. This serves to add a sense of reality to the otherwise incomprehensible tragedy of World War II, helping one to realize that although most who lived through that conflict are now merely history, they were also human. This juxtaposition is perhaps what prevents the book from becoming yet another one of the over-dramatized war novels which abound in bookstores. The story is not merely about a war, but also about human nature itself.
      I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers and adults, as they will be able to comprehend the complex metaphors and messages scattered throughout the book. Although the symbolism is a bit heavy at times, one can also enjoy the story simply for the suspenseful, exhilarating plot. There is also a distinct element of tragedy, although this serves to add weight and realism to the novel. Overall, the book deserves a rating of 5 stars out of 5, so everyone should acquire a copy as soon as possible!
      *Sorry, for some reason my comments weren’t posting and now there are three of them! The bottom one is easiest to read.

    • It is time for that final blog post everybody! Now, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be reviewing, but I’ll do my best to ramble on about how amazing the book was.

      For those who haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the story deftly weaves together the lives of a French girl named Marie-Laure and a German boy named Werner Pfeffinger. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her kind, clever father. He works at the Museum of Natural History as a locksmith, and uses his crafting skills to create a tiny model of the neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can learn to navigate the area herself. Werner lives in a children’s home in Zollverein, Germany, where all the boys are sent to work in the coal mines at the age of fifteen. However, as World War II looms, two objects shatter Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s lives, pulling them away from the places they know: a precious stone called the Sea of Flames and a radio. As both are swept up in the current of war, their fates slowly draw them together.

      This book combines a dramatic, fast-paced plot with numerous poignant moments throughout, accurately reflecting how the action of World War II was always tempered by loss and heartbreak. Several phrases such as “The entropy of a closed system never decreases” (276) or “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (264) repeat throughout the novel, creating symbolism and adding a deeper meaning to seemingly trivial sentences. The idea of light is, of course, quite prominent, lending itself to several different interpretations and setting the stage for other ideas. In addition, the character development is quite intriguing. Most of the characters are fairly dynamic, and one can track their struggles to overcome their fears and weaknesses throughout the novel. With all of this, the reader must learn to read between the lines in order to perceive every idea that is woven through the story.

      As Caeli mentioned in her blog post, ATLWCS is also unusual in that it blends together simple moments such as the birthday celebrations of Marie-Laure with the epic movements of war. This serves to add a sense of reality to the otherwise incomprehensible tragedy of World War II, helping one to realize that although most who lived through that conflict are now merely history, they were also human. This juxtaposition is perhaps what prevents the book from becoming yet another one of the over-dramatized war novels which abound in bookstores. The story is not merely about a war, but also about human nature itself.

      I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers and adults, as they will be able to comprehend the complex metaphors and messages scattered throughout the book. Although the symbolism is a bit heavy at times, one can also enjoy the story simply for the suspenseful, exhilarating plot. There is also a distinct element of tragedy, although this serves to add weight and realism to the novel. Overall, the book deserves a rating of 5 stars out of 5, so everyone should acquire a copy as soon as possible!

  24. elenalee

    It is time for that final blog post everybody! Now, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be reviewing, but I’ll do my best to ramble on about how amazing the book was.

    For those who haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the story deftly weaves together the lives of a French girl named Marie-Laure and a German boy named Werner Pfeffinger. Marie-Laure is blind and lives in Paris with her kind, clever father. He works at the Museum of Natural History as a locksmith, and uses his crafting skills to create a tiny model of the neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can learn to navigate the area herself. Werner lives in a children’s home in Zollverein, Germany, where all the boys are sent to work in the coal mines at the age of fifteen. However, as World War II looms, two objects shatter Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s lives, pulling them away from the places they know: a precious stone called the Sea of Flames and a radio. As both are swept up in the current of war, their fates slowly draw them together.

    This book combines a dramatic, fast-paced plot with numerous poignant moments throughout, accurately reflecting how the action of World War II was always tempered by loss and heartbreak. Several phrases such as “The entropy of a closed system never decreases” (276) or “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (264) repeat throughout the novel, creating symbolism and adding a deeper meaning to seemingly trivial sentences. The idea of light is, of course, quite prominent, lending itself to several different interpretations and setting the stage for other ideas. In addition, the character development is quite intriguing. Most of the characters are fairly dynamic, and one can track their struggles to overcome their fears and weaknesses throughout the novel. With all of this, the reader must learn to read between the lines in order to perceive every idea that is woven through the story.

    As Caeli mentioned in her blog post, ATLWCS is also unusual in that it blends together simple moments such as the birthday celebrations of Marie-Laure with the epic movements of war. This serves to add a sense of reality to the otherwise incomprehensible tragedy of World War II, helping one to realize that although most who lived through that conflict are now merely history, they were also human. This juxtaposition is perhaps what prevents the book from becoming yet another one of the over-dramatized war novels which abound in bookstores. The story is not merely about a war, but also about human nature itself.

    I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers and adults, as they will be able to comprehend the complex metaphors and messages scattered throughout the book. Although the symbolism is a bit heavy at times, one can also enjoy the story simply for the suspenseful, exhilarating plot. There is also a distinct element of tragedy, although this serves to add weight and realism to the novel. Overall, the book deserves a rating of 5 stars out of 5, so everyone should acquire a copy as soon as possible!

    • oliviasweng

      I’m not really sure about how this last review was supposed to go, but here’s mine :))

      Before reading this novel, I had a very different view of what kind of book this was going to turn out to be. In the end, I loved it. It tells the story of a girl called Marie-Laure and a boy named Werner.
      Marie-Laure is a normal girl living in France with her loving father. She is blind, but very clever. An orphan, Werner lives in a children’s home in Zollverein, Germany. He falls in love with electronics, and happens to have a knack for radios. These children both live in relatively peaceful lives, until a war, WW2, changes everything they have ever known. This signals the start of a long fight for both Marie-Laure and Werner. It is a test of bravery, goodness, and resilience. For Marie-Laure, it begins when she and her father retreat to her grandfather’s home with a dangerous and powerful stone called the Sea of Flames in their hands. Meanwhile in Germany, Werner desperately tries to run from his dreaded fate in the coal mines. His skills and determination eventually lead him to fight in the war, but not as a soldier; instead, he uses his skills with the radio. These two people may seem worlds apart, but their paths eventually intertwine and their fates connect.

      This book does not focus on what I consider the more ~famous~ parts of WW2 (ie, the Holocaust). I feel it seems that the Holocaust is what first pops into the mind when one thinks of WW2, but this book gives a completely different, yet still heartbreaking view of the war. These stories and perspectives are not written as much (for one, Werner was fighting on the side of the Germans), and this novel was able to realistically and seamlessly weave the stories. An aspect I found that contributed to the story was how it was filled with the use of ordinary objects to symbolize and hold meaning, all the while set in the background of WW2. It is somewhat similar to what Elena has said above, with the juxtaposition of war and humanity. With this, both the cruel realities of the war can be intertwined with the lives of normal people.

      ALWCS is a war novel, but in my mind, not a “war novel”. Instead, I see it as more of a novel about the war.. if that makes sense. Yes, the war was a big factor that played into the novel, but instead, it was the stories found within that were the most poignant.

      To recommend, I would see this book directed towards more high school/young adults and older. More mature, I feel the audience would be able to catch the metaphors, and see just how complex and intricate this story is. It is incredibly dense that it holds so many ideas within a plot, it definitely would be sure to capture the minds of readers. Just like Elena, I would rate this book 5/5 (or 10/10) ~ I mean, after all, it is a bestseller for a reason (:

  25. caeligriffin

    Hmm, well I am not entirely sure on the required formatting of this review, but here goes.
    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (10/10)
    The novel All the Light We Cannot See follows young Marie-Laure and Werner amidst the chaos, tragedy, and heroism of World War II. Marie-Laure lives with her benevolent, widowed father in Paris, and is intrigued by the objects she finds, and feels, in France’s Museum of Natural History. To the east, Werner, an orphan, lives with his sister in a small, German coal-mining town. He is equally fascinated by his surroundings, but is able to quench his insatiable curiosity with radios instead. Despite the distance of the two main characters, Doerr masterfully links the two through their inherent inquisitiveness.
    Doerr bypasses all obstacles presented in such complicated characters, multiple perspectives, and ever-changing settings with seamless organization. The early character development of Marie-Laure and Werner allows each new chapter to be introduced without a heading to obviously state each perspective. Each character is exceedingly layered, but realistically so, with apparent faults and personal conflicts. The nuances and clear traits of each character make the switches between viewpoints self-explanatory. In addition, main themes present in all characters throughout the novel, including societal values versus personal values, fear, and outlook of the world, help to tie otherwise conflicting characters together.
    Although the plot is an unlikely one, the heavy emotions connected to the Second World War are conveyed skillfully. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the novel is insightful in its portrayal of the war, and thus, fulfills its purpose as a realistic-fiction type novel.
    I would recommend this book to teenagers and adults, as it is profound in its symbolism, metaphors, similes, and juxtaposition. It is exceedingly important to understand pivotal, recurring, objects like the Sea of Flames and radio. ATLWCS is a wonderful book, and certainly lives up to its many awards.

  26. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 10/10

    A bildungsroman, a war story, a philosophical tale… All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a novel that constantly oscillates between the chiseled precision of the scientific world and the uncertainties of life. It is a truly fantastical novel, told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, as piece by piece, the unforgettable story of two individuals, much changed by war, is revealed.

    Within its pages, All the Light We Cannot See captures a most inventive, poignant, and above all, beautiful tale of the life of two individuals caught in the treacherous web of World War II. It follows the lives of a sightless French girl and a German orphan, who struggle to decide between morality and survival as they undergo the tribulations of World War II. Marie-Laure grows up beloved by her widowed father, who goes to extraordinary lengths to compensate for her onslaught blindness at the age of six. However, when the Nazi party occupies France, both father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where her reclusive great-uncle lives sequestered in a house by the sea. With them, they carry the legendary Sea-of-Flames, a jewel of which that possesses a most haunting presence. Meanwhile, Werner lives as an orphan in a small mining town. Soon his talent with radio mechanics draws the attention of the Nazi party, and wins him a place in the Schulpforta, a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, and later, an assignment to track the resistance. Both drawn in by the ‘light that we cannot see,’ and the trials endured through the war, the two lives soon converge.

    Furthermore, Doerr’s acutely sensory style establishes a connection with the audience that is unlike any other novel I have ever read. The idiosyncrasies of each character are so greatly illustrated and expressed in such a way that it is almost as if one is there both physically and mentally, thinking the character’s thoughts, and feeling what they feel. I will most definitely have to agree with the San Francisco Chronicle when they described his novel as with a “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors.” An example of this would be when Doerr illustrates a desolate scene of the overhanging threat of war: “Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.” Doerr’s masterful manipulation of the English language has brought about a truly engrossing tale, wrought with seemingly insignificant moments that make life all the more meaningful (as both Caeli and Elena mentioned) and the novel all the more poignant. This then, perhaps, illustrates the impact of purportedly inconsequential moments in our lives that mold and shape us as an individual—whether it be a recording played on the radio or a well-beloved book. It seemed as if every second of the novel was incredibly detailed, each scene building on to the next until it leads to a culmination of pleasure—pleasure, that is, of the decadent fulfillment of the senses.

    All The Light We Cannot See has proven to be a truly intriguing and enthralling read. The plot was inventive, its portrayal of both characters and events ingenious, and the writing is absolutely beautiful. Though I mostly talked about Doerr’s evocative language and imagery, that is not to say that the concepts, portrayal, messages, and themes were not just as thought-provoking. With my love of this novel perhaps now profoundly expressed, I can now honestly say that this is most definitely a must-read at some point within one’s life—though it may be more suited to a young adult audience. I give this book a 10/10. It truly is a most enthralling novel, poignant and unique in its characteristics. (On a side note, I apologize for the ramblings and the length of this review. I hope everyone has enjoyed this book as much as I have! ☺)

  27. emmymarkgraf

    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 10/10
    Overall, this was a wonderful novel by Anthony Doerr and I absolutely loved it. The time (10 years 😱) and labor invested in All the Light We Cannot See allows for the flawless quality and details of the book to shine through. It tells an unforgettable story that entwines the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure, left blind by cataracts, is left to navigate the dark world with the help her widowed father, a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in France. Werner on the other hand, an orphan, uses his wit and intelligence to gain him a spot in the most prestigious Nazi training elite academy, and escapes the eventual fate of being locked in the mines. As Caeli mentioned, while this probably isn’t a true story (although something like this could have happened) it is crafted so it displays all the strong emotions that are associated with World War II (loss, love, grief, fear, etc). Doerr’s elegant style allows the book to flow smoothly as it glides between different time periods and characters, explaining the past and future stories. These little, but exceptional excerpts of the past and future keep the reader on his toes. Although this book is seems long and hefty (over 500 pages), it is one of those books that you can’t put down no matter what. The multitude of layers to the plot just seem to grab your attention and keep you hooked. There is an indescribable amount of meaning (both figuratively and literally) and emotions packed into all 544 pages.
    I would and am going to recommend it to my friends and family. Although I wouldn’t recommend it to younger tween readers, I would recommend it to anyone young adult and up. And I definitely think this would be a wonderful book to read in English class because not only is it a fantastic story, but it has so much underlying meaning to interpret.

  28. liliperez22

    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 9/10
    Throughout the time I have spent reading and analyzing this novel, I have thoroughly enjoyed the plot and storylines that the author has weaved together to create this masterpiece. The story takes place in a span of about ten years, chronicling the tale of Marie-Laure, a blind girl, and Werner, a young orphan sent into the war as a soldier. Marie-Laure’s father builds her models of the places she lives, in order for her to find her way around her surroundings. However, one day she and her father go to live with her reclusive uncle Etienne, with whom she grows instantly fond of. When her father is captured by the Germans, she and her uncle begin broadcasting on the radio illegally, in order to brighten the spirits of the people.
    Werner, on the other hand, lives with his sister in an orphanage, and is constantly trying to make life better for the two of them. Because he does not want to end up in the mines like his peers, Werner enlists in an academy to train him for the military. There, he learns many life lessons, and begins to listen to the radio that Marie-Laure is speaking in.
    Although Werner and Marie-Laure are the main characters in the novel, there are also many other interesting characters that the author encourperates into the story, such as Sergeant Major Von Rumpel, whom is dying. He believes that the Sea of Flames, a diamond kept at the museum in which Marie’s father works, is the key to saving him from his disease. For many long years, he searches for the stone, leading him dangerously close to Marie and her family.
    The themes in this novel are also deeply moving and are portrayed realistically in the story. One of the themes, hope, stands out above the others because of how none of the characters seem to give up, despite the circumstances they are faced with. Despite the challenges that Marie must face due to cataracts, she still prevails in openly defying authorities by the radio broadcasts, which are made to bring hope into the lives of others. Another theme in the novel is grief, as both Marie-Laure and Werner loose important people in their lives. Marie looses her father to the Germans, and later she looses her uncle Etienne for a short period of time, when she is left alone to fend for herself in her house. Werner must deal with homesickness, as he is separated from his sister, and watch as his friends are beaten and killed in the war.
    Overall, I agree with my peers in the fact that this novel was slightly unrealistic, what with the fact that Werner and Marie-Laure just happened to meet up in the end. However, the way that the author set that up was fascinating to me, and made me devour the ending within a span of about thirty minutes! This book has made me laugh, cry, and angrily scream at the pages as I plowed through its pages. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of twelve, as the book is too depressing for younger readers in my opinion. Also, to Mrs. Huss, I would HIGHLY recommend this book for English class next year!

  29. danielleneadwork

    Hi everyone!

    Final blog post, through this amazing story! I am not positive on how to write this review either, but I will share my joy through reading it! I would definitely give this book, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr a solid 10/10. I must say that the second I finished the last word of the novel, I first sat there for a minute, stunned, by how profound the story was and how much I loved the novel, just utterly amazed by it. Then I ran to my dad, who has been looking for a good book to read, and I told him, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. It is not just good, but fantastic to say the least.”

    What makes this story such a superb experience is partly the excellent and advanced way Doerr crafted this story together. These two characters, Marie-Laure, a blind, French, intelligent young lady, and Werner, a young, inquisitive young man full of potential are truly profound stories just by themselves. Yet the way this story was put together through varying time periods and different scenes and cities was just done at such a high level that it really just ‘worked,’ as I have found it often doesn’t in books not written quite as well.

    Another reason this book was astounding was how the little parts of WWII were tied into the story, yet it was not at all what I was expecting, in a positive way. Most stories about this time period that I have read have mainly focused on the Holocaust and the Jewish people or the Nazis, yet this story showed the perspectives of the French, as well as ‘normal’ Germans not so involved in the war, at first. I really enjoyed reading this because what I already knew of the war was weaved into the story, yet it still differed and became its own, unique story.

    I would definitely recommend this book to high schoolers and adults, and I already did some! 🙂 These ages specifically because they would be able to fully understand and appreciate all of the many details, repeating symbols, and true meanings of the captivating novel, which is worth it for sure!

  30. ericachiang

    “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, 9.5/10

    ATLWCS is a deep, poignant novel which offers the point of views of a blind French girl named Marie-Laure and Werner, a lovable German teenager. Werner is dragged into following Hitler because of his life’s looming alternate path to go straight into the mines at the age of 15. Many of the most poignant concepts are not directly explained, giving way to multitudinous interpretations.
    The novel has many unique attributes which altered the way in which the story fit into my mind. I will admit that since I had no idea what was happening at the beginning of the novel, most of the content in section “Zero” did not help my understanding of later events. However, after finishing ATLWCS, I reread “Zero” and realized that it builds up suspense that segues well into later sections. For instance, the chaos in the Hotel of Bees, though we do not understand why or where, immediately creates a feeling of anxiety. I also realized that the moment when Marie-Laure finds the Sea of Flames is included at the very beginning of the book. Thankfully, Doerr realizes that many readers will not remember this by the end of the novel, so Marie-Laure later discovers the gem for a “second time.” I personally found the time jumps disconcerting, as I never knew exactly what was happening, but I later realized that this was a main component for developing the mood. It was this sense of displacement, feeling as if information was scattered around for us to find, not laid out as novels usually do for us, that recreated the war’s uncertainties. In many WWII books, the characters have two paths: life or death. In ATLWCS, we experience characters’ love and pain, the way they not only care for themselves but for others too. They experience intense emotion and mysteriously find their lives intertwined. When the characters are separated, such as when Daniel LeBlanc is arrested, the unpredictabilities of war weigh down on and change individuals; in a way similar to how characters experience the war, we are often confused and feel misplaced when the setting keeps changing.

    The novel is inspirational, as many events in ATLWCS focus on courage and redemption. We have already talked about how Werner stands by while Frederick (his best friend!!) is assaulted for acting upon his conscience because Werner is too afraid of the consequences. But when Werner saves Marie-Laure, a girl whom he did not even know, he is suddenly courageous and fearless; he dies soon after, and saving Marie-Laure was essentially a final, redeeming action for all of his past wrongs. While the book could have easily just been harrowing and tragic, this novel takes it to the next level. These courageous redemptions, fueled on not only guilt but love as well, are poignantly beautiful in a way that I was not prepared for.

    I was (and still am) very upset that some of my favorite characters perish before reaching their true potential, and that was the only reason I originally felt a tinge of bitterness towards the novel. However, as Elena said, the deaths of Madame Manec, Daniel LeBlanc, and Werner only serve to depict the war and its effects on society accurately. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian seems to over-exaggerate death, but the ostensible redundancy actually understates true tragedies; I find it is almost exactly the same case in ATLWCS. All of the deaths in the two novels were necessary (sorry 😦 ) for a true understanding of the setting. I have (more or less) learned to accept the losses and embrace the book for what it portrays. Overall, I truly feel that no aspect of the story was unnecessary. I would recommend this book to all teenagers and adults, as the storyline would be most effective for one who can read between the lines and appreciate the beauty of this novel. I’ll miss blogging with you guys!! I hope you enjoyed ATLWCS as much as I did.

  31. caeligriffin

    With the conclusion of All the Light We Cannot See came numerous deaths. Marie-Laure’s father, Werner, and the gem inspector. In the harsh conclusion Doerr demonstrated the reality of an equally harsh war, and the wide wake it left in the hearts and minds of those affected in a way which left a lasting, tragic impression on the reader. He then utilized recurring themes, such as perspective/ “seeing,” science versus myth, personal values versus societal values, and fear, to close deep wounds inflicted through his massacre of all our favorite characters.
    Despite early examples of conflicting myths and realities, initially demonstrated as Marie-Laure is first introduced to the Sea of Flames on a tour of the museum, logic ultimately triumphs. For example, as the novel begins Marie-Laure’s father assures, “there are…no such things as curses. There is luck, maybe, bad or good. A slight inclination of each day toward success or failure. But no curses” (28). Later, as the gem expert analyzes a diversion, he soliloquizes:
    A diamond, the locksmith reminds himself, is only a piece of carbon compressed in the bowels of the earth for eons and driven to the surface in a volcanic pipe. Someone facets it, someone polishes it. It can harbor a curse no more than a leaf can, or a mirror, or a life. There is only chance in this world, chance and physics. (110)
    These two examples, and more display the bias throughout the book towards a modern and reductionist type view of the world.
    Multiple perspectives are also plainly written within the novel. One of the earliest chapters of the book apathetically describes the bombing of a city, “For five six seven. To the bombardiers, the walled city on its granite headland, drawing ever closer, looks like an unholy tooth, something black and dangerous, a final abscess to be lanced away” (4). The detached bombardiers see nothing but a problem, while, in contrast, Marie-Laure sees of the same city, “On warm nights Marie-Laure opens her bedroom window and listens to the evening as it settles over the balconies and gables and chimneys, languid and peaceful, until the real neighborhood and the miniature one get mixed up in her mind” (30). The obvious discrepancy is displayed through their perspectives, and helps to explain the war. On one side a person had their family and their country, on the other was the problem. Although this may be true of all wars, the novel does an extraordinary job of conveying the vast effects of this xenophobic thinking.

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