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All the Light We Cannot See

A Novel

LIST PRICE $13.99

About The Book

*Winner of the Pulitzer Prize* A New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book* A National Book Award Finalist*

From Anthony Doerr, the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of Cloud Cuckoo Land, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

*Soon to be a Netflix limited series from the producers of Stranger Things*

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for All the Light We Cannot See includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Ten years in the writing, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is an epic work of historical fiction. With richly detailed language and characters who are both brave and heartbreaking, Doerr weaves together the stories of a French girl named Marie-Laure who has lost her eyesight and a German orphan named Werner. As Hitler’s occupied territory grows, Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives and families are torn apart by the war, yet this gorgeous novel is the story of people who, against the odds, find good in one another.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?
 
2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?
 
3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?
 
4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?
 
5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?
 
6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?
 
7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?
 
8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?
 
9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?
 
10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?
 
11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?
 
12. When Werner and Marie-Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?
 
13. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Can you relate to this? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?
 
14. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?
 
15. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?

Enhance Your Book Club

 
To learn more about the Battle of Normandy, find maps, timelines, photographs, and recommendations for films and books on the subject. Visit www.dday-overlord.com/eng/index.htm.
 
Take another look at Werner's redacted letter to Jutta on page 283. There’s so much blacked out that it’s hard to take any meaning from his message. What do you imagine he might have been writing about? Try to fill in the blanks with your best guess.
 
Radio was such an important part of Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s stories, and WWII in general. Visit the BBC archive collections at www.bbc.co.uk/archive/collections.shtml to listen to clips of Nazi propaganda, news reports, and personal accounts of World War II.
 
Have you ever read any Jules Verne? Pick up a copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (or view the 1954 film adaptation) and talk about why you think Anthony Doerr decided to make Verne’s fiction such a big part of his own.

Also by Anthony Doerr

The Shell Collector

Four Seasons in Rome

About Grace

About The Author

Photo © Ulf Andersen

Anthony Doerr is the author of Cloud Cuckoo Land, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and All the Light We Cannot See, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Carnegie Medal, the Alex Award, and a #1 New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of the story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won five O. Henry Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two sons.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (May 6, 2014)
  • Length: 544 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476746609

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Raves and Reviews

“Exquisite…Mesmerizing…Nothing short of brilliant.”

– Alice Evans, Portland Oregonian

“Hauntingly beautiful.”

– Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“History intertwines with irresistible fiction—secret radio broadcasts, a cursed diamond, a soldier’s deepest doubts—into a richly compelling, bittersweet package.”

– Mary Pols, People (3 1/2 stars)

“Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.”

– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“The whole enthralls.”

– Good Housekeeping

“Enthrallingly told, beautifully written…Every piece of back story reveals information that charges the emerging narrative with significance, until at last the puzzle-box of the plot slides open to reveal the treasure hidden inside.”

– Amanda Vaill, Washington Post

“Stupendous…A beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel.”

– David Laskin, The Seattle Times

“Stunning and ultimately uplifting… Doerr’s not-to-be-missed tale is a testament to the buoyancy of our dreams, carrying us into the light through the darkest nights.”

– Entertainment Weekly

“Doerr has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes….Startlingly fresh.”

– John Freeman, The Boston Globe

“Gorgeous… moves with the pace of a thriller… Doerr imagines the unseen grace, the unseen light that, occasionally, surprisingly, breaks to the surface even in the worst of times.”

– Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle

“Incandescent… a luminous work of strife and transcendence… with characters as noble as they are enthralling”

– Hamilton Cain, O, the Oprah magazine

“Perfectly captured…Doerr writes sentences that are clear-eyed, taut, sweetly lyrical.”

– Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A beautiful, expansive tale…Ambitious and majestic.”

– Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times

“This tough-to-put-down book proves its worth page after lyrical page…Each and every person in this finely spun assemblage is distinct and true.”

– Sharon Peters, USA Today

“Doerr is an exquisite stylist; his talents are on full display.”

– Alan Cheuse, NPR

“Vivid…[All the Light We Cannot See] brims with scrupulous reverence for all forms of life. The invisible light of the title shines long after the last page.”

– Tricia Springstubb, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Intricate… A meditation on fate, free will, and the way that, in wartime, small choices can have vast consequences.”

– New Yorker

“Doerr deftly guides All the Light We Cannot See toward the day Werner’s and Marie-Laure lives intersect during the bombing of Saint-Malo in what may be his best work to date.”

– Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

“To open a book by Anthony Doerr is to open a door on humanity…His sentences shimmer…His paragraphs are luminous with bright, sparkling beauty.”

– Martha Anne Toll, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Endlessly bold and equally delicate…An intricate miracle of invention, narrative verve, and deep research lightly held, but above all a miracle of humanity….Anthony Doerr’s novel celebrates—and also accomplishes—what only the finest art can: the power to create, reveal, and augment experience in all its horror and wonder, heartbreak and rapture.”

– Shelf Awareness

“Magnificent.”

– Carmen Callil, The Guardian (UK)

“Intricately structured…All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art and of preservation.”

– Jane Ciabattari, BBC

“A revelation.”

– Michael Magras, BookReporter.com

“Anthony Doerr writes beautifully… A tour de force.”

– Elizabeth Reed, Deseret Morning News

“A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. . . . Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably recreates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.”

– Booklist (starred review)

“Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.”

– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize-winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts. He convinces readers...that war—despite its desperation, cruelty, and harrowing moral choices—cannot negate the pleasures of the world.”

– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece…[All the Light We Cannot See] presents two characters so interesting and sympathetic that readers will keep turning the pages hoping for an impossibly happy ending…Highly recommended for fans of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.”

– Evelyn Beck, Library Journal (starred review)

"What a delight! This novel has exquisite writing and a wonderfully suspenseful story. A book you'll tell your friends about..."

– Frances Itani, author of Deafening

“This jewel of a story is put together like a vintage timepiece, its many threads coming together so perfectly. Doerr’s writing and imagery are stunning. It’s been a while since a novel had me under its spell in this fashion. The story still lives on in my head.”

– Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling, epic work of fiction. Anthony Doerr writes beautifully about the mythic and the intimate, about snails on beaches and armies on the move, about fate and love and history and those breathless, unbearable moments when they all come crashing together.”

– Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

“Doerr sees the world as a scientist, but feels it as a poet. He knows about everything—radios, diamonds, mollusks, birds, flowers, locks, guns—but he also writes a line so beautiful, creates an image or scene so haunting, it makes you think forever differently about the big things—love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facets of the human heart. Wildly suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, Doerr’s new novel is that novel, the one you savor, and ponder, and happily lose sleep over, then go around urging all your friends to read—now.”

– J.R. Moehringer, author of Sutton and The Tender Bar

“A tender exploration of this world's paradoxes; the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time. The language is as expertly crafted as the master locksmith's models in the story, and the settings as intricately evoked. A compelling and uplifting novel.”

– M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

“The craftsmanship of Doerr’s book is rooted in his ability to inhabit the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner…[A] fine novel.”

– Steve Novak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Beautifully written… Soulful and addictive.”

– Chris Stuckenschneider, The Missourian

“Doerr conjures up a vibrating, crackling world…Intricately, beautifully crafted.”

– Rebecca Kelley, Bustle.com

“There is so much in this book. It is difficult to convey the complexity, the detail, the beauty and the brutality of this simple story.”

– Carole O'Brien, Aspen Daily News

“Sometimes a novel doesn’t merely transport. It immerses, engulfs, keeps you caught within its words until the very end, when you blink and remember there’s a world beyond the pages. All the Light We Cannot See is such a book… Vibrant, poignant, delicately exquisite. Despite the careful building of time and place (so vivid you fall between the pages), it’s not a story of history; it’s a story of people living history.”

– Historical Novel Society

Awards and Honors

  • Pulitzer Prize
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee (AZ)
  • ALA Alex Award
  • ALA Notable Book
  • Colorado Blue Spruce Book Award Nominee
  • ALA Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
  • Heather's Pick - Fiction

Resources and Downloads

Freshman Reading:

University of Idaho (2015/2016)
Case Western Reserve University (2016/2017)

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Anthony Doerr