All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Novel

82%

91 Critic Reviews

This is a beautiful book, an astounding meditation on the paradoxes of fate, human relationships and nature. Fans of Doerr, rejoice: This might be his best book yet.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious 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 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 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, 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.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. 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).
 

About Anthony Doerr

See more books from this Author
Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, a collection of stories that won the 2002 Discover Prize for Fiction and the Ohioana Book Award, as well as a New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award.
 
Published May 6, 2014 by Scribner. 545 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, War, Education & Reference, Romance. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon1
Peak Rank on Jan 25 2015
icon102
Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
7
Want to Read
2
Have Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for All the Light We Cannot See
All: 91 | Positive: 80 | Negative: 11

Kirkus

Excellent
on Mar 06 2014

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Feb 17 2014

If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize–winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by William t. vollmann on May 08 2014

“All the Light We Cannot See” is more than a thriller and less than great literature. As such, it is what the English would call “a good read.” Maybe Doerr could write great literature if he really tried. I would be happy if he did.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Apr 28 2014

What’s unexpected about its impact is that the novel does not regard Europeans’ wartime experience in a new way. Instead, Mr. Doerr’s nuanced approach concentrates on the choices his characters make and on the souls that have been lost, both living and dead.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Justin Cartwright on May 17 2015

There is a worrying even-handedness in Doerr’s treatment of the Germans and the French. There are also some strange mistakes: for instance, Niels Bohr was not a German. However, the story itself is gripping and it is easy to understand why Doerr’s book is regarded by many as an epic and a masterpiece.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Carmen Callil on May 17 2014

This novel will be a piece of luck for anyone with a long plane journey or beach holiday ahead. It is such a page-turner, entirely absorbing: one of those books in which the talent of the storyteller surmounts stylistic inadequacies and ultimately defies one's better judgment.

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Alan Cheuse on May 10 2014

It's a marvelous thing, to read a book studded with epiphanic sequences like this, sentences ringing beautifully on every page. But there's just something about the ragged time-line that makes Doerr's approach and execution all too jarring.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Josh Cook on May 17 2014

This is a beautiful book, an astounding meditation on the paradoxes of fate, human relationships and nature. Fans of Doerr, rejoice: This might be his best book yet.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Susan Frances on Mar 01 2016

The book is an emotionally-driven tale with haunting images, palpable visuals, and memorable characters.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by Karina Wetherbee on Dec 25 2014

Beautiful and evocative, “All The Light We Cannot See” is a tale of a by-gone era that feels fragile, as vulnerable as the two young souls seeking redemption and solace in an unforgiving world.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Michael Magras on May 09 2014

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE consists of short chapters, most of them fewer than five pages, the collective impact of which is devastating as Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories converge. The book’s title gives you a sense of Doerr’s style: formal and elegant, direct yet poetic.

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Book Reporter

Excellent
on May 01 2014

Doerr took 10 years to write ALL THE WORLD WE CANNOT SEE; it took one week of reading for me to select it as a Bookreporter.com Bets On selection. Trust that your soul will be illuminated after reading it.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Steph Cha on May 23 2014

The prose is lovely, with the sort of wondrous, magical, humor-free tone that could be cheesy in the wrong hands. Doerr's novel is ambitious and majestic without bluntness or overdependence on heartbreak...

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by JoJo Marshall on May 16 2014

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.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Brad Hooper on Apr 15 2014

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.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by John Freeman on May 03 2014

...turned his skill at compression and miniaturization to creating metaphorical pivot points...a reader’s skepticism has been absolutely flattened by this novel’s ability to show that the improbable doesn’t just occur, it is the grace that allows us to survive the probable.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Sada Stipe on Nov 26 2014

A National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is easily one of the best books of the year and not to be missed.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Above average
Reviewed by Steve Novak on May 18 2014

In the century before the two world wars, Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman said: “War is cruelty.” Mr. Doerr has depicted two youngsters who demonstrate this very point throughout the 500-plus pages of his fine novel.

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Open Letters Monthly

Good
Reviewed by Rohan Maitzen on Feb 01 2015

Though the story he tells is a sad and often painful one, the way he tells it seems to me not just artful but incorrigibly hopeful. What a readerly treat.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Sharon Peters on May 10 2014

...the author shifts often back and forth in time, jerking readers, just at the point they're completely ensnared in the moment, back to a time years earlier or forward to a time much later. But even that is not enough to douse interest in seeing these characters through to the end.

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Teen Reads

Good
Reviewed by Michael Magras on May 09 2014

...the greatest achievement of this book is that, unlike many similar works, Doerr emphasizes his protagonists’ capacity for kindness. Of all the brightnesses we can’t or don’t allow ourselves to see, the capacity for goodness in the face of evil is the brightest of all.

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PopMatters

Good
Reviewed by Chris Barsanti on Jan 26 2015

All the Light We Cannot See is nearly too much of a novel even before Doerr seeds in the overkill addition of von Rumpel’s Nazi treasure hunt. But those pages slip past barely noticed. For the most part, the novel confidently folds back one delicately traced episode upon the next...

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Deseret News

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Reid on May 31 2014

Pivotal to the book is Doerr’s gift of language, and “All the Light We Cannot See” becomes a tour de force. This novel should quickly find its way onto book club lists and bookshelves as a perennial favorite of literature lovers.

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The Miami Herald

Excellent
Reviewed by AMANDA VAILL on May 25 2014

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. A lesser novelist would be content with this achievement, but Doerr twists the puzzle-box once more and brings his novel into the present.

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by Frances Monaco on Aug 30 2015

Anthony Doerr has written a gem of a book, a story that enlightens the reader to the “light” seen by Marie-Laure, a blind young French girl in Paris during World War II.

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BlogHer

Good
Reviewed by ConfessionGirl on Sep 10 2014

Doerr keeps his two main characters separate for most of his story, but describes impeccably the beautiful relationships within each of the two stories.

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Times Dispatch

Good
Reviewed by CHRIS WIEGARD on Jun 20 2014

Reportedly 10 years in the making, “All the Light We Cannot See” is what the title implies: a powerfully spiritual and atmospheric work that encourages the reader to close his or her eyes at chapter ends to experience emotions and dwell on mysteries.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Madison Vain on May 23 2014

To begin, All the Light We Cannot See must be the best title of 2014. It’s inviting and seductive (in the way that sometimes literary things can be literarily-seductive) and once you learn that half the narrative is told from the perspective of a young blind girl it sort of slaps you in the face with its depth.

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Spectrum Culture

Above average
Reviewed by David Harris on Apr 07 2016

More than anything, Doerr’s lyrical prose is worth the price of admission. He beautifully draws the tight streets of Saint-Malo, making it easy to hear the seagulls and the waves crashing in between the dropping of bombs.

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The Copperfield Review

Good
Reviewed by Yushin Jeng on Jan 30 2016

...this book is for the readers wondering how humans manage to carry on with their lives when so much evil corrupts the rare purity in the world. It is also for the readers who wish to read about characters who find the strength in themselves and the goodness in the world...

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St. Cloud Visitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Ann Jonas on Oct 02 2014

Ten years in the writing, this epic novel touches on a variety of subjects including the power of the voice via the radio, valuable gems, mollusks, wooden miniatures and locks. Even more, it tells a rich story of kindness, love, fear, beauty and grace. "All the Light We Cannot See" is a book that will stay with readers long after it is read.

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The Reader

Above average
Reviewed by MAUREEN on Apr 10 2015

While in one sense the plot moves slowly, the reading experience does not. The novel is highly descriptive (I did read one review in which the reader complained at length about the vast number of adjectives and adverbs!) but is contained within such short chapters that you find you are sailing through to see what happens next.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Abra_Lee on Jun 17 2016

Doerr described things in his World War II story that wouldn’t normally be there – the Russians, the radios, the museums, the treasure hunters. It was thoroughly unique and the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.

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Reviewing the Evidence

Above average
Reviewed by Sharon Mensing on Jul 01 2014

The writing falls away, on one level, as the individuals, their experiences, and the suspense take center stage. On another level, however, the writing is to be savored. The light we cannot see, as in the title, permeates the book.

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That's What She Read

Good
Reviewed by Michelle on Apr 29 2015

It leaves readers contemplative as to the intricacies and damage to mind, body, and soul war wreaks on people. More importantly, it leaves readers hopeful that even in the very worst of times, humanity’s innate goodness can and will prevail.

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Book Loons

Good
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens on Nov 13 2014

Many vivid characters populate this story, and we are treated to wonderful descriptions of mollusks and birds, armies and history, cities and countryside, and that's not all. This is a work to savor, ponder, re-read and to recommend.

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Quick Book Reviews

Excellent
on May 31 2014

...if you are looking for a World War II novel that strays from the beaten path and tries something new, an uplifting story about human kindness set in the midst of one of the greatest tragedies in human history, then I can’t recommend this novel enough for you!

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Men Reading Books

Excellent
Reviewed by West Coast Don on Nov 06 2015

It’s obvious fairly early on in the novel that the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure have to connect in some meaningful way, it’s only a question of how Doerr is going to make that happen. This is a beautiful story – and it gets my highest recommendation.

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Readings

Good
Reviewed by Luke May on Apr 23 2014

...it’s impossible to do Doerr’s novel any justice with paltry aphorisms. The depth of emotion here is immense.

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BrodartVibe's Blog

Good
Reviewed by Cathi on Apr 28 2014

At 500 some pages, it never seemed like a long book to me as I was reading. So do not be put off by the length as you begin it. It will end much sooner than you would wish.

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Raging Biblioholism

Above average
on Jun 09 2016

...it felt like a beautiful version of a story (or type of story, anyway) that I’ve already heard many times. The particulars are different, of course, but at the end of the day it’s a well-written novel about adversity during World War II. It was pleasurable to read but ultimately nothing very special.

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Lit Stack

Good
on Oct 29 2014

The story of Marie-Laure and Werner is a delicate, intricate tale that deserves to be experienced along with the machinery and the theater of war.

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Popcorn Reads

Good
Reviewed by MK on Oct 02 2014

It's a novel I have put on my short list to read again because it contains layers upon layers that I want to explore further.

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Nomad Reader

Good
on Sep 21 2015

All the Light We Cannot See is a beautifully written tale of World War II. Doerr uses the story of these two different characters to tell a story that is both singularly fascinating and a larger tale of the ways war strips us all of our humanity.

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Book Chatter

Below average
Reviewed by Ti on Jun 30 2015

Overall, it was a good read but there were times where I found myself questioning the events that took place and each time that happened, I was pulled out of the story.

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Lit and Life

Good
Reviewed by Lisa on Nov 04 2015

At one point, I felt the book dragged, there was one characters in particular that felt like a stereotype, and there were somethings that were just a bit to tidy but those are all small quibbles given the way Doerr was able to draw me in emotionally. All The Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books of the year.

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Guys Lit Wire

Excellent
Reviewed by KHB on Aug 28 2015

Anyone with an interest in this time or this war should take this skeptic's word for it and run, not walk, to the nearest available copy of All the Light We Cannot See. And that goes for scholars of literature and composition, too -- you'd almost think this guy won awards for his writing ability or something.

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Annette's Book Spot

Good
Reviewed by Annette on Jun 10 2015

All the Light We Cannot See won't be a book for everyone, but it has great appeal for those who enjoy literary, character-driven, historical novels.

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Rated Reads

Above average
Reviewed by Corinne Edwards on Feb 06 2015

While I recommend it with caution to sensitive readers (there is strong language, also), I do, definitely, still recommend it.

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Everyday eBook

Good
Reviewed by Allyson Pearl on Dec 04 2014

Doerr expertly plots Marie-Laure's and Werner's stories until they converge in Saint-Malo just as the allies are arriving, and when they finally meet, it is one the novel's most shattering moments. Life isn't always pretty or easy in Doerr's superb tale, but he never lets the reader forget the beauty of life...

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http://blogs.slj.com

Good
Reviewed by Angela Carstensen on May 12 2014

I love the idea of having another literary WWII novel to recommend to young lovers of The Book Thief. This one is equally lengthy and lyrical, but quite different–beautiful in its own ways.

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Women 24

Above average
Reviewed by Hannah Atkins on Jun 17 2016

The novel is one I would describe as a ‘quiet’ book. There are no pulse-pounding combat scenes, for example. The overall mood is bittersweet. There is a certain sense of melancholy, the knowledge that not everyone you come to care about in this book will make it though, because this is war.

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Good Book Fairy

Good
Reviewed by Lauren Margolin on Oct 02 2014

Light and the lack thereof are reflected throughout this book in many symbolic and obvious ways, which makes the title perfect.

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Impressions In Ink

Good
Reviewed by Annette on Jun 14 2015

The story and characters are memorable and haunting. The characters are living during a historical event they have no voice or power to control or escape.

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Laura's Reviews

Good
Reviewed by Laura on Jun 08 2015

Overall, All the Light We Cannot see is a great suspense novel and a good look at the moral quandaries of war. It is a book not to be missed.

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Just a Lil' Lost...

Good
Reviewed by MICHELE on Apr 07 2015

All the Light We Cannot See was a moving and enjoyable read. I can see why it has made it onto so many acclaimed lists.

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https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

Excellent
on Nov 24 2014

This is a magnificent story, with equal parts of suffocating tragedy and redeeming light and love. In this book, we hear the voices of the last great war, and what it did to those in its wake.

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Bookfoolery and Babble

Good
Reviewed by Bookfool on Jul 26 2015

...sometimes found myself rereading sentences for their rhythm and beauty. A truly spectacular work of writing.

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Reading World

Good
Reviewed by SUSAN on Apr 15 2015

This is a long book, and yet I was hooked from the very first few pages. It’s beautifully written, wrapping you up in its imagery and forcing you to care what happens to its characters. This is one "best of" that lives up to the hype.

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Caribous Mom

Excellent
Reviewed by Wendy on Jan 01 2015

All The Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of historical and literary fiction…and certainly one of the best books of the year.

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Take Me Away

Below average
Reviewed by Jenny on Dec 18 2014

...All The Light We Cannot See is beautifully imagined, but there was nothing in the story or characters that made me want to read more. I finished this one for the sake of finishing it.

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No Charge Bookbunch

Good
on Jul 02 2014

The story has Doerr’s insightful phrasing, playing through the thoughts of the two teenagers – some still resonate with me...

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Maurice on Books

Above average
Reviewed by lomaurice on Dec 04 2014

I can not say this is a love story. And it is certainly not a perfectly written novel. But it is a fabulously told story. And Anthony Doerr is an author to watch!

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MBTB's Mystery Book Blog

Excellent
Reviewed by BARBARA TOM on Feb 08 2015

With sweetness and gravity, Anthony Doerr tells an extraordinary and sometimes fantastical tale of a serendipitous intersection of lives. Highly, highly recommended, even if you are neither my family nor my friend.

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Beth Kephart's Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Jul 09 2014

Anyone who reads will emerge brokenhearted but also grateful that Doerr doesn't just break our hearts. In surprising and redeeming ways, he heals them, too.

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Heaful of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Anne Bennett on Aug 07 2015

All the Light We Cannot See is easily one of the best books I've read in 2015. I was mesmerized by it from the first moment. I lived and breathed the book for days.

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West Metro Mommy

Good
Reviewed by Melinda Ott on May 06 2014

I will admit that there were parts of this book that I found a bit slow, but all in all it was a beautiful read that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in historical or literary fiction. And I would really love to visit Saint-Malo!

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Summer Reading Project

Good
Reviewed by Annie Smith on Oct 17 2014

There is no larger plan. It's people trying to survive for another day. Doerr writes in an impressionistic way, even Impressionist. All the little details together create a chaotic portrait of France in the Second World War.

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Tony's Book World

Above average
Reviewed by Anokatony on Sep 07 2014

I longed for some dirty realism while reading ‘All the Light’. I wanted a more complex adult view of things. Still it is nice to see that a literary novel and Anthony Doerr are making the best seller lists.

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https://forwinternights.wordpress.com

Good
on Dec 18 2014

The reader is in the position of knowing more about the Nazi regime than our young witnesses but seeing it unfold through their developing experiences adds something both poignant and powerful to its telling.

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Tutu's Two Cents

Excellent
on Jul 26 2014

This is a book worth reading in any format. I intend to read the print version again this fall. I'm really hoping it will appear on the Maine Reader's Choice Long List. It's certainly the best 2014 Fiction I've read so far this year

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https://thebookstop.wordpress.com

Above average
Reviewed by curlygeek04 on May 18 2015

So as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E day, this book is definitely a good way to revisit that history. Did it rise to Pulitzer-worthy for me? Not entirely. It was, however, a Very Good Read.

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http://www.apl.org

Good
Reviewed by Susie on Sep 22 2014

At 530 pages, "All the Light We Cannot See" is a lengthy read. However, the details are intoxicating and the story captivates as it unravels.

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https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com

Excellent
on Jun 15 2016

All the Light We Cannot See is one of those novels that burrows into your heart and refuses to let go. Unmissable.

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The Internet Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Marty Carlock on Sep 24 2014

I’ve emphasized the beauty of Doerr’s prose because a mesmerized reader, eager to find out what happens next, may overlook it. No less sophisticated is the plot...

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http://www.jonosbookreviews.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Jono on Mar 27 2015

All the Light We Cannot See is as suspenseful as a sophisticated high-wire spy novel, but way more down to earth. It is as quick moving and entertaining as an action-packed thriller like Raider’s of the Lost Ark, but without the cartoon characters and with much more to think about.

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RabbitReader

Excellent
Reviewed by Chiron on Jul 17 2015

...All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent tale of World War II from the viewpoint of some of its most innocent witnesses. I strongly recommend this book for lovers of suspense, joy, misery, fear, and love.

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https://thehungryreader.wordpress.com

Excellent
on Jan 30 2015

I was completely overwhelmed and taken in by the writing. It is pure, surreal and makes you wonder why you didn’t pick this one up sooner than later. “All the Light We Cannot See” is a treat for all literary fiction lovers and you shouldn’t miss this one at all.

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A Backwards Story

Good
Reviewed by Bonnie on Jan 13 2015

I can't even tell you what I loved so much about this novel. It's outside of my typical wheelhouse. It's so well-written and the characters are so compelling. I had borrowed this, and became so immersed in the world that I had to buy my own copy.

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Gudrun's Tights

Excellent
on Jan 03 2015

There are many, many levels of enchantment here, too many to mention, and the way they combine makes a gorgeous, robust novel. I was completely engrossed and am happy that this was the last book I read in 2014. I ended the year on a high note, indeed.

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https://shelflove.wordpress.com

Below average
Reviewed by Jenny on Sep 10 2015

It’s vivid and detailed. Yet with all the details, the brine and camphor and rose petals and azure sky, I found it somehow unreal and detached from the events that took place.

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Jayne's Books

Good
Reviewed by Melissa Wiebe on Oct 30 2014

Even though it is a long book, it reads like a novel that is a hundred pages less because the short parts within the book and also it allows the reader to become involved with the characters. Highly recommended.

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Paper Plates

Good
Reviewed by Amina on May 27 2014

All the Light We Cannot See is too complex a novel to be sufficiently boiled down for the purposes of this review. It is a novel for those who hope for love, strength and goodness. It will force you to wonder what you would do in the face of massive challenges...

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Libby Blog

Excellent
Reviewed by Ange Schmelzer on Dec 07 2015

If you have an interest in history at all, then this is for you! Or, if you like to read about different peoples lives as they struggle through life issues, then this is for you!

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Cresta McGowan

Below average
Reviewed by Cresta McGowan on Feb 01 2015

While this novel has garnered extreme attention and holds top spots on best seller lists, it fumbled with me. Then again, I've yet to like a Pulitzer Prize wining novel either - maybe for me the author that creates the novel in order to reach a reader through language and story rather than gimmicks and convoluted metaphors sets better in my world.

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https://wednesdaybookreview.wordpress.com

Below average
Reviewed by Arlene Somerton Smith on Jan 28 2015

I also thought Doerr pulled a Quentin Tarentino with this book: one plot development too many. I can’t say much without giving away the ending, but I will say I thought Doerr took me on one too many visits to a little house. Read the book and see if you agree.

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Parry Sound Books

Above average
Reviewed by Charlotte Stein on Dec 10 2014

The chapters alternate quickly between characters and time periods, between Germany, Vienna and France. We see life change for everyone as the war progresses...I found it very thought provoking...

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Books on Beech Wood

Good
Reviewed by Anne McDougall on Aug 16 2014

Doerr writes intimately about the beauties of nature, the love and loyalty of human beings, as they shine through the horrors of war.

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http://hopeisthewordblog.com

Good
Reviewed by Amy on Mar 13 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a rich, complex story. It shifts backwards and forwards in time, and the narrative juggles back and forth among a few characters.

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https://bookconscious.wordpress.com

Below average
Reviewed by Deb Baker on Feb 01 2015

So although I’m glad I read it and I can’t say I disliked it, I wasn’t wowed. I am sure many of you will disagree with me...

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Good
Reviewed by Ali Pelczar on Jan 07 2015

Doerr does not shy away from the harsh realities of war, which might not make for an uplifting story, but it does make for a cathartic one. And I find that those carry the greatest impact and stay with me the most.

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