During my last semester of undergrad, I took what was essentially a writing workshop. One of my classmates was working on a children’s book geared toward children with visual impairments. The main character was a little girl who was blind, and the story described various people in her life and the colors she understood them to be (e.g. her heartwarming, loving teacher was yellow). I don’t know what happened to that guy or that story, but it has always stuck with me.
I tell you this because Marie Laure, the protagonist in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, is blind. When she sits next to her smoking father, she sees swirls of blue; “bees are silver; pigeons are ginger and auburn and occasionally golden.”
Doerr’s story takes that idea my classmate had and runs with it, threading it throughout a story of perseverance and the little things that tether us. For Werner, a German boy recruited into the army, it’s the French children’s science shows he used to get on his ham radio and his prodigiously technical nature. For Marie Laure, it’s the physical. She is blind, and her dad trains her to find her way home, using miniature molds of their Parisian neighborhood as practice. Her fingers work like our eyes, allowing her to gain a personal understanding of the objects around her. World War II comes and slowly saws away at what grounds these characters.
The connection between Marie Laure and Werner feels tenuous at times, but it exists. However, I only thought about that every once in a while. I was too busy being enchanted. I would leave a chapter as if I were leaving a cave, wide-eyed and blinking quickly, reluctant to leave the book for the harsh light of reality. Doerr writes in a surgically poetic style that requires you to stop and marvel.