So for this challenge, I put a post on Facebook asking what my “friends” loved that they’d read. I had such a wide variety of answers! Here are a few: The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The King of Trees by William D. Burt, Follow the River by James Alexander Thorn, Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi, The Shack by Paul Young, Peace Like a River by Leif Engle, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown, and Between Two Worlds by Roxana Saberi.
However, one book had four recommendations, which meant I simply couldn’t ignore it. And while many of the suggestions had been from old high school classmates, or distant relatives, this one came from a close friend, my mother, my grandmother, and a beloved elementary school teacher! So, how could I pass up on such a great candidate with so many people telling me it was worth reading.
The book was, of course, this year’s Pulitzer Prize Winner: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
The book centers on two different protagonists. Marie-Laure is a young French girl living in Paris where her father works at the Museum of Natural History. When she was six she became blind, and she has lived her life trying to overcome this disability, memorizing a wooden city map her father has made for her, learning different parts of science through touch and smell and sound instead of sight. But when the Germans invade, she and her father must flee to Saint-Malo, a seaport town where Marie-Laure collects shells and dreams of the day they can return to Paris while her father searches for a way to hide the most precious and dangerous item from the museum.
In the meantime, Werner, a German orphan who loves math and science, struggles to find his place in society. When he is accepted into a school for Hitler Youth, he takes the opportunity hoping only to continue using his skills for his country. It isn’t until much later he begins to become aware how much his dreams might cost him, and how difficult it can be to figure out what is right and wrong in a time of war. He eventually travels to Saint-Malo where Marie-Laure’s story meets his own.
The awards this book had won seemed obvious to me within a few pages. Just barely having started the story, I could already see the expert craftsmanship. The writing is simply beautiful. However, unlike some books I’ve read, it’s not overbearing or pretentious. The descriptions are intricate but not overwhelming. They are simply as much as is needed to paint a picture of the circumstances of the times.
I recently read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, also set during World War II in France. It’s also a good read, but I would say it doesn’t measure up in terms of writing. It’s much more clunky at times, much less beautiful. However, one thing I would say is that The Nightingale snagged my attention just a bit earlier. All the Light We Cannot See starts out a tiny bit slower. It takes a bit to figure out what’s going on. Like Nightingale it flashes between past and present, building time into an intricate matrix of narrative. The sections are also all quite short, jumping between events in Germany and France, Werner and Marie-Laure.
At first I wasn’t sure about the shortness of the sections, but I began to like it after a while. It established a very fast rhythm and helped me keep interested in both stories. After becoming used to it, it gave the story a lot of ease in reading. I’m definitely keeping this technique in mind for my own writing.
i highly recommend this book. It was a good read, and I’m glad I don’t have to go back to my friends and tell them I didn’t like their recommendations. So thank you friends for picking such a good read for me!
Do you and your friends have similar tastes? What books would you recommend to a good friend?