Friday, January 23, 2015

Light, Sight, and Darkness

I don't know how strange this is, but when I read a book I tend to find myself talking and thinking like the characters in the book.  This can be amusing, to me at least, but is a liability when reading a book like All the Light We Cannot See.  It is a liability because this beautiful book is very depressing and I found myself sad and blue for most of the week when I snorted the read.

The story alternates between describing the life of a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris and an orphan who lives in a small town in Germany during the thirties and early forties.  At several points the novel jumps to August 1944 when the Allies liberated Saint-Malo. The blind girl has gone with her father to Saint-Malo in an attempt to escape the occupation. The boy in August 1944 is stationed in Saint-Malo.  While the story is about these two and how they are connected, their actual meeting is confined to about twenty pages of the book.

Werner, the boy, is good with radios and is able to escape a life of drudgery in the mines because he is selected to a school for young men who, ostensibly, have bought into the philosophy of the third Reich.  Werner does not buy into that philosophy.  However he doesn't want to live a dead end life in the orphanage. Consequently he is torn between doing what he knows is right and what he can see all around him is clearly horrible.  Marie-Laure is the blind girl who with the aid of her father an uber locksmith for a museum, and his agoraphobic uncle, attempts to survive, escape the darkness, and find the keys to light.

Long book but a fast read-in part because the chapters are very short. I like that in a book. I know when I start a chapter that I can take a small bite and finish the chew.

A problem with the writing is that the vocabulary is so sophisticated that after a while I just had to give up looking up words.  There is a character who is into birds so there are a lot of words that bird people would know. Also there are allusions to the sea and again many technical terms for water and fish. Finally a significant part of the book deals with a gem and the language around gemstones is alien to me.  There are inclusions of French words and, less often, German ones which can make you guess at what is being written.

Still, with all this, I turned the pages and sucked this sad beautiful depressing book up.

I have read my share of novels related to world war 2 and Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich history.   Not sure any of these better captured the horrors of the period.

All the Light We Cannot See was not about the holocaust centrally, but depicts--very believably--the decayed society of Germany.  If we are not vigilant we could lapse into something similar.

Recommended if you are a reader.  This book will hang around my head for a while.  

No comments:

Post a Comment