When will they ever learn? sang Peter Paul and Mary in Where have all the flowers gone? With the recent terrorist attacks and religious based fighting throughout the world, All the Light We Cannot See resonated particularly with me over the past week. Having grandchildren made my reading even more poignant to the point of shedding a few tears on my bus ride into town. All around me relatives and friends of all ages are predicting a third world war.
The story tells of parallel lives which intersect during the Second World War in Europe. The emphasis is on children and how much they suffered through the greed of adults, the basis of all wars, be it greed for goods, land, power or religious domination.
Werner and his sister, Jutta, have been orphaned by the greed for coal which will help fuel the engines of Germany's war. Both have a love for technology, and Werner's innate ability sees him taken into a special school for gifted and talented children. These are the children who will become fodder for the insatiable hunger of the German war machine. As adult manpower ran out, mere children went to war in oversized uniforms, to be crushed underfoot. It is still happening in our world today.
Marie-Laure, a blind Parisienne, is particularly interested in the world of Nature, undoubtedly because her father is the principal locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History. As a single parent, he takes his parenting of a child with a disability very seriously. He makes models to teach her to negotiate her surroundings, and educates her with books in Braille. Woven throughout the story is the Jules Verne novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which is an allusion to many of the situations the characters find themselves in.
There is an air of mysticism through the belief in the powers of a very valuable gem, once housed in the museum, but smuggled out into the world to avoid the predations of the Third Reich. A terminally ill cancer sufferer, who believes in its restorative powers, poses more of a threat to Marie-Laure's life than the artillery of the warring nations. His obsessive compulsive grasping at straws brings her within a hair's breadth of death. At this point Werner achieves his sister's humanitarian goals.
The way these two young lives come together is the highlight of this book, but the story does not end there. We are transported from the beginnings of World War II to the year 2014. In this manner we are privy to the fate of the survivors of this terrible period of world history. There is no fairy tale ending, but one feels that the two child heroes achieve their life ambitions.
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. Any book that keeps me reading after midnight deserves such recognition.
I read this a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story has such a fresh focus and showed how easily the young become wrapped up in war. The writer is a master craftsman. This is the most well written book I have read for a very long time.