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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

One novel with two plots: All the Light We Cannot See

As noted previously there are two story lines told in, for the most part, alternating chapters (with various jumps back and forth in time, to make this novel really challenging) in Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. The Marie-Laure story line is the more original and technically impressive: she's a blind girl, seems to be a preteen, who with her father escapes from Paris ahead of the Nazi occupation and hides out during the war in the coastal town of Saint-Malo, which itself becomes occupied by Nazi troops - her father (who is holding a world-famous diamond) gets called back to Paris and disappears from her life, so she's alone in this new city under siege. Doerr's great accomplishment is to give us so much of her world without reliance on visual description: he enables us to "see" the world as a curious and intrepid blind child might: a walk on the beach, for example, told through sound and touch (the soles of her feet). That said, this strand of the plot feels slack: halfway through the book and Marie-Laure is a very passive character, things happen to her but she hasn't done much: her story would not be enough to carry this long novel on its own. The alternating plot is of an Austrian Nazi soldier, Werner Pfenning (?), who is, at the latest time point so far in the novel (1944) trapped in the rubble of a building in Saint-Malo that the allied forces have bombed. I have to say that the Werner chapters, though somewhat more familiar and conventional (aside from the extensive information about early radio technology - Doerr is the inveterate researcher and show-off in some regards), does hold my interest much more as well as they are dramatic and show the change and growth of a character: a young orphaned boy interested in radios recruited to a Nazi boot camp where he excels but becomes gradually aware of the barbarity of his teachers and of the Nazi officers and of his fellow cadets. Doerr has made me sympathize, to a degree, w/ a Nazi soldier: he's trapped like so many others, literally and figuratively. I don't want to feel this sympathy, I feel manipulated by this, but there you have it.

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