from my bookshelf: all the light we cannot see by anthony doerr

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doerr’s masterpiece transports readers to world war ii europe. it tracks the lives of two complex, youthful, and deeply insightful characters: a blind french girl (marie-laure lablanc) and a german boy (werner pfennig). marie-laure’s closest friend is her father, who protects her from a world she cannot see. when marie-laure is separated from him, she relies on her strikingly powerful remaining senses, particularly touch, to navigate her war-ridden surroundings. werner is an orphan and has a knack for fixing things, especially radios. he lives a simple and quiet life until nazis recruit him to serve as an engineer in the army. marie-laure’s and werner’s lives appear unrelated until they are forced to fight for their survival together in france. doerr’s story uniquely incorporates history, art, war, and some of the most painful struggles humans can encounter, into one unforgettable fiction novel.

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“To really touch something, she is learning–the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Entomology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop–is to love it.”

“But curses are not real. Earth is all magma and continental crust and ocean. Gravity and time. Stones are just stones and rain is just rain and misfortune is just bad luck.”

“From the kitchen window comes the wit wit wit of a barn swallow, footfalls on ramparts, halyards clinking against masts, hinges and chains creaking in the harbor. Ghosts. Germans. Snails.”

“And yet she can tell he is visited by fears so immense, so multiple, that she can almost feel the terror pulsing inside him. As though some beast breathes all the time at the windowpanes of his mind.”

“After a while, he is learning, even total darkness is not quite darkness; more than once he thinks he can see his spread fingers when he passes them in front of his eyes.”

“But she is angry. At Etienne for doing so little, at Madame Manec for doing so much, at her father for not being here to help her understand his absence. At her eyes for failing her. At everything and everyone. Who knew love could kill you?”

“Everyone trapped in their roles: orphans, cadets, Frederick, Volkheimer, the old Jewess who lives upstairs. Even Jutta.”

“Werner thinks about the men in the sunflowers and a hundred others: each lay dead in his hut or truck or bunker, wearing the look of someone who had caught the tune of a familiar song.”

“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”

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