Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”

Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See

Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary
Pages: 531 (Paperback)
Published: May 6th, 2014

My Rating: ★★★★
Read: 9/19/2022 – 9/28/2022


At this point in my reading life, I’m no longer shocked when I don’t fall head over heels in love with a book that the majority raves about. While I did enjoy All the Light We Cannot See, that enjoyment only came well into the second half of the book.

Mainly following Marie-Laure and Werner Pfennig, the story jumps between different times and places (predominantly during WWII). Marie-Laure is the daughter of a museum worker. When the war hits and France is occupied, the two of them take off to stay with a relative. Things are particularly lonely for Marie-Laure at her uncle’s house. She’s without her books and trapped inside for a long time given her father’s fear for his blind daughter’s safety.

Werner’s story is far different. Orphaned and living with his sister and mechanically inclined, he eventually is forced to join the Nazis in their fight for the Reich. Though he doesn’t think he agrees with what’s going on, especially having witnessed the abuse and eventual disablement of a friend in his school days by these same people, denial and looking the other way play a big role in his service.

The stories, of course, eventually intertwine. There are some other points of view scattered throughout providing a different perspective. Another large focus of the book is a diamond that Daniel, Marie-Laure’s father, flees with as a slide of hand effort. The legend is that this diamond possesses some sort of magical powers and it is a much sought-after item. This is the part of the book that’s left me ambivalent. While the ‘Sea of Flames’ is paired nicely with Marie-Laure’s love of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I personally don’t care much for fantasy elements in historical fiction. 

As I already mentioned, I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. The build-up was excruciatingly slow and I finally had to look up some spoilers to see if the rest of the book was going to be worth my time (something I rarely do). Over 500 pages in length and filled with thoughtful prose, this book is an investment. Ultimately, I vote that the time is worth it, but keep in mind that it’s very slow-paced. I also need to point out that Anthony Doerr’s writing is so lovely. That alone makes for a good reading experience.

Likes & Dislikes:

What I liked:

  • The prose. My goodness, Anthony Doerr is talented. It’s been a while since I’ve completely melted into the words of a book.
  • Marie-Laure. She is a wonderful character through and through.
  • The alternating timelines. While the later chapters including both Marie-Laure and Werner grew confusing having them occur in different years, I eventually got into the rhythm.
  • Frederick. I wanted to give him a hug so badly.

What I didn’t like:

  • I’m going to flip-flop for a moment here and mention again the later chapter pacing with Marie-Laure and Werner. While I did like the alternating POVs and even the going back and forth in time, there was one part in particular that messed up the flow of the story so much for me that I thought I’d skipped a section by mistake. So yes, once I figured out that I hadn’t goofed up, I was able to get into the rhythm, however, it would have been better not to have had to backtrack at all.
  • A painfully slow beginning. There wasn’t much to be interested in for a long time.


I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think this book deserved the Pulitzer Prize award, but I do see why it’s so wildly popular. I believe that the author’s talents as a writer is what ultimately won it rather than the story itself. That I can get on board with. Disappointingly though, I can think of several other WWII books that merit higher awards for their stories (Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan immediately comes to mind). The story here is good, but with such a lack of action throughout most of it, you have to really be in the zone to have a full appreciation for all of the nuances.

Where to buy the book:

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