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by Anthony Doerr
read by Zach Appelman
2014 Simon and Schuster Audio
16 hours 2 minutes unabridged
Genres: general fiction, World War 2
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews
5 out of 5 halos
PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, 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, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
©2014 Anthony Doerr (P)2014 Simon & Schuster Audio
AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Oh boy! I absolutely loved this book. I don’t even know what to say about it. Gosh! Okay let’s do this: instead of trying to write a synopsis for All The Light We Cannot See that would not even begin to do it justice, why don’t I just introduce you to a few of the main characters.
The Sea of Flames An enormous blue diamond, 130 carats, with a flare of red at its core, the Sea of Flames has a long and tragic history. The story goes that the goddess of the earth created the diamond as a gift for her lover, the god of the sea, and sent it to him through the river. When an earthly prince picked up the diamond she became enraged and cursed the stone. The keeper of the stone would live forever but misfortunes would fall on all those he loved. A tragic tale follows the diamond through time until finally it came to the King of France on the condition that he lock it away for 200 years. Thus it has been kept in a special vault at the Museum of Natural History in Paris for the last 196 years.
Marie-Laure (mar’-ee lore) Marie-Laure is the young daughter of the keeper of keys at the Museum of Natural History and she knows all about the Sea of Flames. She went blind at the age of six and her father built an exact scale replica of the six-block walk from their apartment to the museum so she could memorize it by touch. When the Nazis invaded, Marie and her father were forced to flee their home and they ended up in the coastal town of Saint-Malo (san ma-lo’) at the home of her father’s uncle. Unbeknownst to Marie, the Sea of Flames went with them in an effort to keep it safe. Remarkably, Marie ends up working for the French underground, carrying messages hidden in loaves of bread and using the radio transmitter in her great-uncle’s attic. The Nazi grip on Saint-Malo tightens however, and the members of Marie’s household disappear one by one, including her uncle, her father, and the housekeeper. As the war nears its end Marie is alone in the house while the city is being bombed to pieces all around her. Also, the radio transmissions have caught the attention of Nazi specialists and the Sea of Flames is also being traced to her location. This all places Marie in a very precarious position.
Werner (ver’-ner) Werner grew up an orphan in a small mining town in Germany with his sister. He once found a simple radio that someone had cast out because it was broken. He studied the device very carefully until he saw what was wrong with it and fixed it. From then on radio was his passion. By the time the Nazis came to power Werner had earned something of a reputation as a radio repairman. Even though his lowly status as an orphan would have precluded him from joining the third reich, his skill with radios caught the attention of the Nazis and he was sent away to a Hitler youth camp, where conditions were hard and he was taught many horrible things. When he was old enough, Werner was sent to the front but not as a soldier. Rather he was sent into France to track down underground radio transmissions using signal triangulation equipment that he had helped to build. After shutting down many transmitters, he stumbles across one that is broadcasting the voice of a girl. It is a sweet sounding voice that seems completely out of place in the bombed out city of Saint-Malo. Instead of reporting the signal to his superiors he just listens, undecided what to do.
von Rumpel Sergeant Major von Rumpel is a German officer who is primarily a treasure hunter. It is his job to scour France for the most valuable treasures: paintings, gems, sculptures, you name it. He is very aware of the Sea of Flames diamond and wants to possess it very badly for obvious reasons. What is not so obvious to the casual observer, however, is that von Rumpel is being eaten alive by cancer and more than anything he believes that the Sea of Flames is his only chance to survive. Beginning at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, von Rumpel tracks the progress of the priceless diamond to a house in the devastated city of Saint-Malo.
And those are the primary players from All The Light We Cannot See. It was fascinating to watch their individual stories slowly come together in the ruins of Saint-Malo. I don’t want to give away too much so all I can say is that some of them survive the war and some do not. But one way or another, the war had a permanent effect on them all.
Mostly this is the story of Werner and Marie-Laure. You see, many years before the war, Marie’s great-uncle and his brother built the radio transmitter in the attic of their family home. They would broadcast classical music and lectures about dinosaurs and anything else they could think of. All the way up in Germany, a young orphan boy who had just found his first radio and fixed it, came across their regular program and was captivated by it. Later on, near the end of the war, Marie finds herself all alone in her great-uncle’s house and there are no longer any messages to transmit for the French underground. Finally despairing of any hope, Marie decides to transmit one of her uncle’s old records, an album containing classical music and dinosaur lectures along with a call for help, even though it may alert the Nazis to her location. This is the transmission that Werner hears, the same one that captivated him as a child in better times, and the sweet voice of the girl. Even though she is supposed to be his enemy he knows that he must help her.
Gosh, I just want to sit here and tell you the whole story as I relive it for myself. It’s a beautiful story, definitely one of the best I’ve read this year. I’m going to try hard to restrain myself because I don’t want to spoil it for you. But you definitely need to read this book or listen to the audio as I did. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
I have no complaints at all about Zach Appelman’s narration of All The Light We Cannot See. He was easy to listen to for several hours and his French and German accents sounded just fine. Appelman is an accomplished stage actor with a long list of credits on and off broadway. He also has a few television guest appearances under his belt including Law & Order: SVU, and Sleepy Hollow. He has very few audiobook credits so I’m guessing he’s new to the genre, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from him in the coming years.
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Special thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.