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For Your Consideration: All the Light We Cannot See (2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – Anthony Doerr)

April 23, 2015

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Anthony Doerr just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his historical novel All the Light We Cannot See.

And for good reason.

The book follows two perspectives: in one narrative, we meet Marie-Laure, a young, blind girl living in Paris with her beloved father who pushes her to define herself beyond her disability. When the Nazis invade, the two end up in the walled city of Saint-Malo in Normandy. Doerr peoples the town with endearing characters including an eccentric great-uncle with agoraphobia, a feisty housekeeper trying to start an underground rebellion and a fearless baker. Oh, and there’s also the storyline that follows a stone, from the Museum of Science, which may or may not be the most valuable object on earth.

In the other narrative, we meet Werner, an orphan, living with his sister. They are bonded as they navigate the benign terrain of their orphanage in Germany. After the war breaks out and a Nazi official discovers Werner’s talent with transistor radios, he is sent to a terrifying training school for Hitler Youth.

The strengths of the novel lie not only in the meticulous research (everything from science to technology during the war – it took Doerr ten years to learn about the background details) – but also in the sweeping, bird’s eye view of the narrative once you reach the end.

What was most striking while reading was the appreciation for the many decent characters Doerr creates. In an era when unlikeable, nasty personalities people the pages of so many books, television shows and films, it was refreshing to read a writer who believes that human goodness manifests itself in equal parts alongside the wicked.

And none of it felt contrived.

If you enjoy lyrically written, page-turning, historical fiction, told from alternating perspectives (specifically through short, masterly vignettes), then this is your next book.

And, as always, Happy Reading.

Further reading:

An interview with Anthony Doerr in The Guardian in which he discusses winning the prize.

 

 

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