Today, on the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key writing the poem which would one day become the national anthem of the United States, I write my thoughts on the best book I’ve read this year: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This novel is the only place I have ever seen the word ramparts used aside from the national anthem, and it must be used 25 times over the course of the book. So many times that I finally looked up what it meant (how embarrassing to not know!).
a broad elevation or mound of earth raised as a fortification around a place and usually capped with a stone or earth parapet.
such an elevation together with the parapet.
anything serving as a bulwark or defense.
Ramparts play an important role in the book, as one primary setting is a town in France nearly surrounded by water, definitely invaded by Germans, during WWII.
But I digress. I adored this book. I learned new things. I saw things through the perspective of others, including a blind girl, not a pun. And yet, the light we cannot see is not a reference to her blindness, that would be too obvious for such a multifaceted novel. I thought the novel was describing the German occupation of France from two perspectives: a French girl and a German boy. I thought that was a fantastic framework to use, one character from each side, one from each sex, children – so they “see” the war through less jaded eyes or perhaps become jaded as a result. The short chapters from each to really show the contrast in their lives. Each of them, in addition to being children, has lost at least one parent, so they are less protected than other children How terrifying that must of been (and yet Marie will tell us she is not brave, she gets up and lives her life, as she must). The light they cannot see is the good in others, the life of a child who does not grow up terrified by war? Oh the many perspectives on the same historical events, making one think of all the other untold stories we will never know. Fantastic.
Then I heard the author speak on the novel. The above wasn’t what he set out to write. No, he was writing about the use of radios in the war, the transmissions the light we don’t see (I think). The children were the framework to tell that story. And I thought how people look at the same thing in so many different ways To me, the radio was a minor character, not the point, to the author, something else. It’s his work, perhaps he should drive the meaning, but I’ve learned that what we perceive is how we view reality. So for me, it’s about these two characters and their perspective of the war. And I’m not wrong, and I feel I’ve gained from reading it and thinking about the story long after (especially the occasional end of chapter shocker which felt like it cut me).
Minor Spoiler alert
The only part I that was a bit much for me was the diamond story, which would vanish for long segments of the book. Let’s say the diamond ends up in the ocean. I could almost hear Celone Dion singing my heart will go on and Marie whispering that Werner saved her, looking back on it from 2014. No ‘you jump, I jump’, but still.
Read this book immediately. The story, the writing, the detail, you will not regret it.