All The Light We Cannot See

Reading my way through Popsugar’s 2016 Book Challenge.

Category: A Book Set In Europe

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All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (530 pages)

My Rating: ★★★★★

Favorite Line: Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

Review: 

Set in France and Germany during World War II and the few years leading up to it, this story tells the story of two children, an orphan boy in Hitler Youth, and a blind Parisian girl who flees from occupied France to the coast with her father.

I read this book shortly after reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which had quickly become my favorite WWII based fiction, but this book challenged that ranking from page one.

Full of breathtaking passages and deep emotional scenes, All the Light we Cannot See hooks you to the two main characters, forcing you to embrace their story as if it were your own.

You can’t help but hurt for Werner, the Germany boy, as he goes through Hitler Youth. You watch his mind slowly change from the young innocent boy who used to listen to French broadcasts with his sister from the attic of their orphanage, to a young soldier locating enemy spies and ignoring any opposition he had in his mind. Even while he abandons his beliefs for those of his commanders, you never fully abandon your belief in him, because after all, He was just a boy. They all were. Even the largest of them.

Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, had to flee Paris with her father to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to stay with her wacky, secluded uncle. This bold girl, encouraged by her spirited father’s puzzles and her braille books, especially Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, finds joy and courage everyday and helping those around her find their own.

Marie-Laure, despite her blindness, and the disappearance of her father, remains the true light of this book. Her determination never ceases and her cleverness only grows as the war goes on.

When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?

The book moves toward the inevitable meeting of our two protagonists in a beautifully written narrative with fun (yes, fun, even in a book about WWII) subplots, but yet in many places it will break your heart.

****

Anthony Doerr won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, along with several other awards for All the Light We Cannot See. Some other works by Doerr include: The Shell Collector (2001), Memory Wall (2010), About Grace (2004), and The Snake Handler (2011).

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The Nightingale

21853621.jpg“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

Rating: ★★★★

Favorite Line: “I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.”

Review:

This story was so unexpectedly addicting.

It follows the simultaneous stories of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, during German occupied France in World War II, but it is so much more than that. This book covers multiple love stories, friendships, rebellious action, betrayal, life-threatening dilemmas, and hope.

Vianne, the older sister, is mature, reserved, happily married, and mother of a little girl. Isabelle, is outspoken, rebellious, spontaneous, and has been kicked out of every school their father could think to send her to. They lived very separate lives and when they were together they didn’t last long before an argument broke out—they both seemed to expect something more out of the other that they were not able to offer. Their relationship is shockingly real for a book written about women who lived decades ago in a foreign country.

The girls’ life is turned upside down when the Germans invaded France and took over Paris. Isabelle is sent by her father to live with Vianne, and Vianne’s husband is sent off to fight.

Isabelle is strongly against her father sending her out of Paris—she wanted to stay and help. Luckily, for the reader, she decided that being sent away wasn’t going to stop her from helping anyway.

“I belong to a generation that didn’t expect to be protected from every danger. We knew the risks and took them anyway.”

Vianne and Isabelle were thrust into the war in very different, yet very significant ways; they did their part, all while believing they were protecting their sister from the truths of war.

Kristin Hannah tells this story in a way where the reader sympathizes with both sisters, but also there are many times where you feel frustrated and upset with both sisters. With each chapter and each stage of the war, we see the sisters’ change, both in their relationship with each other, but also in their own self-identity.

“She realized that the landscape of a woman’s soul could change as quickly as a world at war.”

I thought this book was wonderfully written and an excellent story. The plot was thick with subplots, cliffhangers, and lots of exciting action. I loved how the story mixed love and war seamlessly together, making them both so real, and therefore, so painful.

There were some points that I found unbelievable, but they were pretty minor so they didn’t slow my interest in the book by much.

This book will make your heart break several times, but it will also make you proud of the human race. It will remind you to never underestimate your ability to do the unthinkable.

“Ask for help when you need it, and give help when you can. I think that is how we serve God—and each other and ourselves—in times as dark as these.”

 

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Kristin Hannah is the author of 21 novels and is a New York Times bestselling author. “The Nightingale” won the Audie Award for Fiction in 2016 and the Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction in 2015.