So much of our world's best literature is set during our world's wars. It's just the way it is. We heal from our biggest errors with our best offerings of art, and because of this, the most monumental events in our history are always the crucibles for our best stories.
No one should shy away from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr simply because it is set during World War II. Though nothing that happens here could have happened without the war, this is not a book about the war.*
The novel is about truths that are much, much smaller than wars. It is about the quietest kinds of bravery you can imagine. It is about the barest bones of human compassion, and how much each of these gestures can mean. It is about the extraordinary things we can do when we realize we have no other choice. It is about saving people.
The writing in this thing is perfect. Seriously. I can't remember the last time I've finished a book and wanted to start over from the beginning right away. I need to re-read this novel just to marvel at Anthony Doerr's wordcraft.
My neighbor (the marvelous one who recommended this book to me) said, "You can't remove a single sentence from this book." And she is right. If I were still teaching writing classes, I would challenge my students to pick a page and pick one sentence on it that was unnecessary. Then I'd have the rest of the class clamoring to tell us why Doerr kept it.
But I wasn't thinking of these things while reading, because the story itself was so beautiful. I couldn't bear to stop (too often) to marvel at the writing, though I was aware of it glittering all around me.
Have you ever admired a gorgeous work of art, a painting, say, or a mosaic, or an heirloom quilt or tapestry, and been blown away by the beautiful picture before you? And then have you been blown away all over again by the intricate handiwork, the attention to detail, that you notice only when you step close enough to see what makes up that picture? Have you marveled at the incredible skill it must take to see how every single stitch or stroke or stone or word will fit into place amongst the many other thousands beside it to create the breathtaking whole?
The Gutsy Mom
*Okay, okay. It's inevitably about the war. But there's very little shoot-'em-up, bang-'em-up, atrocity after atrocity after atrocity numbing you to the horror-of-it-all going on here.