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A Superb New Novel by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See. By Anthony Doerr. 531 pages. $27.00.


Marie Laure is blind. Her mother is dead, and she lives with her father, who works as a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. He is extremely good with his hands and in order to give Marie Laure some measure of independence, he crafts a model in miniature of their neighborhood. It’s difficult, but eventually, by counting steps and sewer drains, she manages to get around. She manages to get around Paris, but when World War II war breaks out, she and her father move to Saint Malo to live with his uncle, a French veteran of World War I who is an expert on radio. In fact, at one time, he and his brother, killed during the first war, had made French-language radio broadcasts aimed at children.

Two of the children who heard these broadcasts are a German brother and a sister. They are being raised in an orphanage in a coal mining town by a French woman, and Werner proves to have a great gift for math and technology. He finds and repairs a damaged radio, but soon he becomes too afraid to use it and smashes it. However, his skills are noticed. He can repair any radio, no matter what is wrong with it. Eventually Werner becomes so adept at the technology of radio that he is inducted early into the Wehrmacht and sent to Russia, where he helps the Germans find and kill Russian partisans using radio to set up ambushes of German soldiers.

As the Third Reich crumbles, Werner is sent to Saint Malo, where Marie Laure now lives with her uncle, her father having been betrayed by a self-serving local traitor and therefore having vanished into the concentration camps. Werner saves Marie Laure’s life in Saint Malo and loses his own, and his sister never finds out exactly what happened to him, just as Marie Laure never discovers her father’s fate.

This is a beautifully written novel and one that for all its 500+ pages reads very fast, as fast as anything you will ever encounter. It has an attractive airiness about it. The short chapters are spiced with highly telling details, interesting characters, and unlikely events. The suspense keeps you reading long after you know you should be in bed asleep. And the style grabs you and just won’t let go.

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