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All the Light We Cannot See
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All the Light We Cannot See

4.3 728
by Anthony Doerr

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful 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.

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).

Editorial Reviews

USA Today - Sharon Peters
“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.”
NPR - Alan Cheuse
“Doerr is an exquisite stylist; his talents are on full display.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Tricia Springstubb
“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.”
BookReporter.com - Michael Magras
“A revelation.”
Bustle.com - Rebecca Kelley
“Doerr conjures up a vibrating, crackling world…Intricately, beautifully crafted.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Josh Cook
“Perfectly captured…Doerr writes sentences that are clear-eyed, taut, sweetly lyrical.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Steve Novak
“The craftsmanship of Doerr’s book is rooted in his ability to inhabit the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner…[A] fine novel.”
Christian Science Monitor - Yvonne Zipp
“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.”
The Guardian (UK) - Carmen Callil
Los Angeles Times - Steph Cha
“A beautiful, expansive tale…Ambitious and majestic.”
Deseret Morning News - Elizabeth Reed
“Anthony Doerr writes beautifully… A tour de force.”
New Yorker
“Intricate… A meditation on fate, free will, and the way that, in wartime, small choices can have vast consequences.”
Aspen Daily News - Carole O'Brien
“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.”
The Missourian - Chris Stuckenschneider
“Beautifully written… Soulful and addictive.”
Booklist (starred review)
“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.”
Historical Novel Society
“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.”
Portland Oregonian - Alice Evans
“Exquisite…Mesmerizing…Nothing short of brilliant.”
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
“Hauntingly beautiful.”
Seattle Times - Mary Ann Gwinn
“Doerr, a fabulous writer, pens an epic novel about a blind French girl and a German boy in occupied France and their struggles to survive World War II.”
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell
“Anthony Doerr again takes language beyond mortal limits.”
Good Housekeeping
“The whole enthralls.”
O, the Oprah magazine - Hamilton Cain
“Incandescent… a luminous work of strife and transcendence… with characters as noble as they are enthralling”
People (3 1/2 stars) - Mary Pols
“History intertwines with irresistible fiction—secret radio broadcasts, a cursed diamond, a soldier’s deepest doubts—into a richly compelling, bittersweet package.”
BBC - Jane Ciabattari
“Intricately structured…All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art and of preservation.”
Shelf Awareness
“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.”
“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.”
Frances Itani
"What a delight! This novel has exquisite writing and a wonderfully suspenseful story. A book you'll tell your friends about..."
Abraham Verghese
“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.”
Jess Walter
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.”
J.R. Moehringer
“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.”
M.L. Stedman
“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.”
Washington Post - Amanda Vaill
“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.”
The Seattle Times - David Laskin
“Stupendous…A beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel.”
Entertainment Weekly
“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.”
The Boston Globe - John Freeman
“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.”
San Francisco Chronicle - Dan Cryer
“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.”
Washington Independent Review of Books - Martha Anne Toll
“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.”
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Katherine Noone
This is a beautiful book. Two children, a book-loving blind girl from Paris and a gifted orphan boy from Germany, move in alternate chapters through the 1930s into World War II. After her father’s arrest, Marie-Laure and her great-uncle join the Resistance in Saint-Malo. In 1944, Werner, by now a radio expert, homes in on their secret radio transmissions, and the two teens meet for the only time. Marie-Laure has suffered; Werner has helped inflict suffering but is haunted by doubt. They need each other. The chapters are short; the quick changes in point of view require the reader to hold two worlds in focus, awkwardly at first, then more smoothly as one comes to care about both protagonists. Simple sentences and present-tense narration keep the reader involved. Marie-Laure has sounds, smells, vividly imagined colors, two Verne novels in Braille, and a Breton beach throbbing with sea life to touch. For Werner, the sea off Saint-Malo is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, like a medicine to heal guilt. Only once does Doerr show a personified Death considering which victims to reap, a hallmark of Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006/Voya June 2006). Even so, Marie-Laure could easily step into the earlier book to befriend Liesel. Both are resilient, reading novels aloud during air raids, comforting others. Teens in both novels emerge from innocence into Nazi brutality and grope their way to answering the poignant question Marie-Laure asks her great-uncle, “But we are the good guys, aren’t we?” Reviewer: Katherine Noone; Ages 17 to Adult.

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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

All the Light We Cannot See

Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a tall and freckled six-year-old in Paris with rapidly deteriorating eyesight when her father sends her on a children’s tour of the museum where he works. The guide is a hunchbacked old warder hardly taller than a child himself. He raps the tip of his cane against the floor for attention, then leads his dozen charges across the gardens to the galleries.

The children watch engineers use pulleys to lift a fossilized dinosaur femur. They see a stuffed giraffe in a closet, patches of hide wearing off its back. They peer into taxidermists’ drawers full of feathers and talons and glass eyeballs; they flip through two-hundred-year-old herbarium sheets bedecked with orchids and daisies and herbs.

Eventually they climb sixteen steps into the Gallery of Mineralogy. The guide shows them agate from Brazil and violet amethysts and a meteorite on a pedestal that he claims is as ancient as the solar system itself. Then he leads them single file down two twisting staircases and along several corridors and stops outside an iron door with a single keyhole. “End of tour,” he says.

A girl says, “But what’s through there?”

“Behind this door is another locked door, slightly smaller.”

“And what’s behind that?”

“A third locked door, smaller yet.”

“What’s behind that?”

“A fourth door, and a fifth, on and on until you reach a thirteenth, a little locked door no bigger than a shoe.”

The children lean forward. “And then?”

“Behind the thirteenth door”—the guide flourishes one of his impossibly wrinkled hands—“is the Sea of Flames.”

Puzzlement. Fidgeting.

“Come now. You’ve never heard of the Sea of Flames?”

The children shake their heads. Marie-Laure squints up at the naked bulbs strung in three-yard intervals along the ceiling; each sets a rainbow-colored halo rotating in her vision.

The guide hangs his cane on his wrist and rubs his hands together. “It’s a long story. Do you want to hear a long story?”

They nod.

He clears his throat. “Centuries ago, in the place we now call Borneo, a prince plucked a blue stone from a dry riverbed because he thought it was pretty. But on the way back to his palace, the prince was attacked by men on horseback and stabbed in the heart.”

“Stabbed in the heart?”

“Is this true?”

A boy says, “Hush.”

“The thieves stole his rings, his horse, everything. But because the little blue stone was clenched in his fist, they did not discover it. And the dying prince managed to crawl home. Then he fell unconscious for ten days. On the tenth day, to the amazement of his nurses, he sat up, opened his hand, and there was the stone.

“The sultan’s doctors said it was a miracle, that the prince never should have survived such a violent wound. The nurses said the stone must have healing powers. The sultan’s jewelers said something else: they said the stone was the largest raw diamond anyone had ever seen. Their most gifted stonecutter spent eighty days faceting it, and when he was done, it was a brilliant blue, the blue of tropical seas, but it had a touch of red at its center, like flames inside a drop of water. The sultan had the diamond fitted into a crown for the prince, and it was said that when the young prince sat on his throne and the sun hit him just so, he became so dazzling that visitors could not distinguish his figure from light itself.”

“Are you sure this is true?” asks a girl.

“Hush,” says the boy.

“The stone came to be known as the Sea of Flames. Some believed the prince was a deity, that as long as he kept the stone, he could not be killed. But something strange began to happen: the longer the prince wore his crown, the worse his luck became. In a month, he lost a brother to drowning and a second brother to snakebite. Within six months, his father died of disease. To make matters even worse, the sultan’s scouts announced that a great army was gathering in the east.

“The prince called together his father’s advisers. All said he should prepare for war, all but one, a priest, who said he’d had a dream. In the dream the Goddess of the Earth told him she’d made the Sea of Flames as a gift for her lover, the God of the Sea, and was sending the jewel to him through the river. But when the river dried up, and the prince plucked it out, the goddess became enraged. She cursed the stone and whoever kept it.”

Every child leans forward, Marie-Laure along with them.

“The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain.”

“Live forever?”

“But if the keeper threw the diamond into the sea, thereby delivering it to its rightful recipient, the goddess would lift the curse. So the prince, now sultan, thought for three days and three nights and finally decided to keep the stone. It had saved his life; he believed it made him indestructible. He had the tongue cut out of the priest’s mouth.”

“Ouch,” says the youngest boy.

“Big mistake,” says the tallest girl.

“The invaders came,” says the warder, “and destroyed the palace, and killed everyone they found, and the prince was never seen again, and for two hundred years no one heard any more about the Sea of Flames. Some said the stone was recut into many smaller stones; others said the prince still carried the stone, that he was in Japan or Persia, that he was a humble farmer, that he never seemed to grow old.

“And so the stone fell out of history. Until one day, when a French diamond trader, during a trip to the Golconda Mines in India, was shown a massive pear-cut diamond. One hundred and thirty-three carats. Near-perfect clarity. As big as a pigeon’s egg, he wrote, and as blue as the sea, but with a flare of red at its core. He made a casting of the stone and sent it to a gem-crazy duke in Lorraine, warning him of the rumors of a curse. But the duke wanted the diamond very badly. So the trader brought it to Europe, and the duke fitted it into the end of a walking stick and carried it everywhere.”


“Within a month, the duchess contracted a throat disease. Two of their favorite servants fell off the roof and broke their necks. Then the duke’s only son died in a riding accident. Though everyone said the duke himself had never looked better, he became afraid to go out, afraid to accept visitors. Eventually he was so convinced that his stone was the accursed Sea of Flames that he asked the king to shut it up in his museum on the conditions that it be locked deep inside a specially built vault and the vault not be opened for two hundred years.”


“And one hundred and ninety-six years have passed.”

All the children remain quiet a moment. Several do math on their fingers. Then they raise their hands as one. “Can we see it?”


“Not even open the first door?”


“Have you seen it?”

“I have not.”

“So how do you know it’s really there?”

“You have to believe the story.”

“How much is it worth, Monsieur? Could it buy the Eiffel Tower?”

“A diamond that large and rare could in all likelihood buy five Eiffel Towers.”


“Are all those doors to keep thieves from getting in?”

“Maybe,” the guide says, and winks, “they’re there to keep the curse from getting out.”

The children fall quiet. Two or three take a step back.

Marie-Laure takes off her eyeglasses, and the world goes shapeless. “Why not,” she asks, “just take the diamond and throw it into the sea?”

The warder looks at her. The other children look at her. “When is the last time,” one of the older boys says, “you saw someone throw five Eiffel Towers into the sea?”

There is laughter. Marie-Laure frowns. It is just an iron door with a brass keyhole.

The tour ends and the children disperse and Marie-Laure is reinstalled in the Grand Gallery with her father. He straightens her glasses on her nose and plucks a leaf from her hair. “Did you have fun, ma chérie?”

A little brown house sparrow swoops out of the rafters and lands on the tiles in front of her. Marie-Laure holds out an open palm. The sparrow tilts his head, considering. Then it flaps away.

One month later she is blind.

Meet the Author

Anthony Doerr is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See. He is also the author of two story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won four 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. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife and two sons.

Brief Biography

Boise, Idaho
Date of Birth:
October 27, 1973
Place of Birth:
Cleveland, Ohio
B.A., Bowdoin College, 1995; M.F.A., Bowling Green State University, 1999

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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 728 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I seldom write a review, but after reading this wonderful book I had to share my thoughts...never heard of this author but was recomended This author writes with so much thought and crafting of each chapter I was totally drawn in to the story...I wanted more His writing is wonderfully poetic and mesmerizing and informs a good deal of history that most people are probably not aware of This rates in the top 10 of my favorite books Did not want to put it down and have ordered one of his previous books...please enjoy
readerbdj More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories I've ever. Beautifully written with history and romance included very gracefully. Don't be put off by the length. The construction of the novel is so unique, the story unfolds easily. It is a book that one wished would never end. I recommend it highly.
queen-of_books More than 1 year ago
All the Light We Cannot See is a poignant look at the devastation that comes with war and how it leads people along roads they would never have taken in other circumstances. Set in WW II Germany and France with forays into the Soviet Union, it tells the parallel journeys of Marie Laure, a blind German girl, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan. Werner’s gift with electronics attracts the attention of Nazi military technicians who drag him into the Hitler Youth and, eventually, into the war where he is responsible for determining the coordinates of enemy resistance fighters using hidden radios. Marie Laure is the beloved daughter of the French National Museum locksmith. He flees Paris with his daughter when the Germans invade, going to stay with his housebound uncle, Etienne, in St. Malo. The book begins when the child Werner and Etienne’s paths cross over the radio waves. Etienne brother had recorded ten children’s radio shows and Etienne played them over the wireless radio. Werner and his sister listened to them faithfully sparking Werner’s interest in science and electronics. Interestingly, the book ends when the soldier Werner’s path crosses with Marie Laure. He hears Marie Laure reading a book over the same wireless while requesting help between sentences and goes to her aid instead of reporting her. Between these two events, Doerr shows the paths followed by the two children and how their personal characteristics determine the wartime choices they make. Part of the story includes the search for an ancient diamond rumored to bring death to those closest to the person who owns it. Marie Laure is at the crux of this portion of the story. She must decide whether to hold on to the stone or get rid of it. The question in her mind is whether the rumors are true and can she affect whether the stone’s power will prevail. Some readers may be confused by Doerr’s use of parallel stories while moving back and forth in time, however, if readers pay attention to the time lines at the beginning of each chapter, they should not have difficulty keeping up with the story. All the Light We Cannot See examines the roads ordinary people take to protect themselves when faced with circumstances beyond their control.
DonnaRae More than 1 year ago
You, Mr. Doerr, have a new fan. Love your writing style. Love your story - it will stay in my heart for a long, long time - and then I will read it again.
crossword69 More than 1 year ago
Never having read an Anthony Doerr book prior to this, I was inspired to read this only by topic and reviews from B&N ratings.  Not only is the 5-star rating pertinent, if there was a 6-star rating, this book would earn that ranking.  The characters are fully understandable, interesting, and fleshed out.  The historical value of the book rings true to facts regarding the confusing monstrosities of war.  I will definitely invest time to read other Doerr books as quickly as possible!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful, beautiful story. This is what reading is all about. Thank you, Mr. Doerr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My kind of book. I like and need the history -- if you don't have a setting you don't understand the people. He did a lot of research on a number of things. I bet he can put together a radio in no time. Try it, you'll like it!
tori_g More than 1 year ago
This book is the standard by which all beautiful books should be held. 
juliusa More than 1 year ago
Very simply.....stunning!
4x4_luvr More than 1 year ago
After reading several other recently-written/published "recommended" books and being horribly disappointed, I need you to know that as I finished this one, I am struggling to want to rejoin my own world again. I feel displaced, like I should still be in this story. It has been a long time since a book has made me feel this way - has taken me so willingly into its covers. There is so much that is beautiful about this book, from word choice to writing to plot to war setting handled honestly and disturbingly real yet delicately, right down to the way the story was crafted, where the timelines of the story converge together at just the precisely correct defining moment... even by the ending, I am in love with the author's choice of what parts to resolve, and how the resolutions happened, and what he chose to not resolve. I'm not even going to read the reviews that find something bad about this book. They don't deserve my attention. Thank you Mr. Doerr for getting me excited about reading again - after an entire summer of reading a book a week, I had all but given up on contemporary literature. To have this magical feeling again where a story has so completely claimed me and drew me in, and where I was left at the end feeling sated by the story, yet somehow hungering to start it all over again, has been a gift I will not soon forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. Great story,  and well written. Amazing story of events during the era of WW 2. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Each year I yearn for a book that pulls me in and doesn't let go! This story is one I did not want to end! Beautifully written and one I will remember for a very long time. I have recommended it over and over again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author has done an incredible job with this book. Telling about World War II from the perspective of these children, coming of age. (German and French) Amazing story, how do people survive emotionally and mentally after such an experience? What a loss to society when people "turn" on each other. A lesson human beings never seem to learn. Can't wait to share it at book club. I will read other books by Doerr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and still can't get over how much I enjoyed reading it. Beautifully written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone who is interested in WWII and loves a beautifully written novel will be enthralled with this book.
kelties_mom More than 1 year ago
very thoughtful and eloquent writing.  Exceptional from start to finish.  Will engage you from the very first page, and leave you wanting for more......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was amazing thrilling novel felt so real
read_jan More than 1 year ago
This book is nothing short of a masterpiece. It exemplifies the balance of characters and story. There are very few books that give your almost a real life experience, I would say Anthony Doerr's work is one of those few. I am looking forward to the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this one!
BookLoverCT More than 1 year ago
This was a very different look at WWII. The story of a blind girl, and an orphan who enjoyed radios. The way they actually ended up interacting with each other, unknowingly is an interesting story. I loved the book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent, loved the writing style. A WWII story told from a whole different point of view. Magical
juliaw More than 1 year ago
Exceptional book, highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book