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A Book for These Difficult Times

October 15, 2022

Another Way for week of October 7, 2022

A Book for These Difficult Times

I recently read a most beautiful and unusual fiction book—a story about a blind girl, her father and uncle, and what happened to them during World War 2. A book about war that’s beautiful? Only in terms of how caring, giving, and faithful some folks are in the midst of such trauma. It is called All the Light that We Cannot See (Scribner, publisher).

My husband and oldest daughter at a huge World War 2 American military cemetery in Luxembourg, 2002.

It took the writer, Anthony Doerr, about ten years to write. If you read it you will see why in terms of the exacting research he did related to that dreadful period. The book, published in 2014, won a Pulitzer Prize.

The first unusual thing I spotted were short, short chapters, many only a page or even half a page long, some 3-4 pages. That makes for great bed-time reading because you can easily cut off your reading if you’re about to fall asleep. Doerr also doesn’t worry about complete sentences. He makes his sentences as short as he needs. So, you keep moving in the book.

But we also jump around a lot between main characters and then side characters in the book, so it was a little hard to keep track of who was what. The writer also zooms forward a time or two to the future, which didn’t help confusion. That was my biggest complaint, and maybe some of the dialogue—once we got among actual soldiers using language that you might expect of soldiers fighting a horrible war.

The book starts in 1944 with the sightless young Marie-Laure living with her uncle in Saint-Malo in the Brittany region of France. Named for a monk, Saint-Malo was built on a rock at a naturally defensive position near a river. The city goes back to before Roman times. In the introductory pages, Marie and her uncle are awaiting whatever comes next: annihilation? Death? Severe injuries?

Then we skip to 1934, and the back story where Marie-Laure is only six and her father works as locksmith for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her mother died giving birth to Marie-Laure. Eventually Marie completely loses her sight. But gradually dad and daughter adjust. He takes her along to work. He makes miniature wooden models of every house, store and apartment in their neighborhood of Paris, which Marie-Laure memorizes to help her navigate the city.

We also become acquainted with a German lad named Werner, seven, who in the 1930s, shows keen skills and interest in radio and short-wave technology. Werner and his sister are orphans who live in a children’s home. They look out for and love each other as siblings. We soon guess that Werner and Marie-Laure may eventually meet in this far-flung story.

As the book follows these characters through the difficult war years (rations, little to eat, keeping water in the bathtub to drink,) eventually Marie and her father move to live with her uncle at Saint-Malo which is deemed safer. Unfortunately, the war soon whisks her father off to prison leaving Marie bereft but always hoping he’ll be able to fulfill a promise that he will return.

In this year in which the world has experienced the outbreak of war and fighting in Ukraine, as I read this book my mind went to the thousands of children we saw (on TV) in warm winter jackets as they sought safety as refugees from the bombing and tanks and men being sent off to war. This time, instead of Germans advancing, we have Russia fighting for territory.

Visiting a memorial, Luxembourg, 2002. We were visiting our oldest daughter during a semester she spent in Belgium.

Reading this story of Marie-Laure, Werner, her father and uncle, I prayed anew for safety for children, mothers, and fathers involved in wars all over the world. We wonder: which children will lose a precious father or mother? How will everyone manage? Why oh why do good men (and women) have to fight for their country’s freedom? I cannot stomach war. We pray and pray. May it come to a quick and just end. And may women and men be as resilient and loving as Marie-Laure and her father and uncle.


Do you read books about war? Or not? And why or why not?

Other thoughts? I’d love to hear from you here, or write to me at Another Way, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or email at

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of ten books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. As one reader to another, I enjoyed this book and made notes that run similar to yours:

    What it’s like to be blind, according to Author Anthony Doerr:

    Where there should be a wall, her hands find nothing. Where there should be nothing, a table leg gouges her shin. Cars growl in the streets; leaves whisper in the sky; blood rustles through her inner ears.

    There are months of bruises and wretchedness: rooms pitching like sailboats, half-open doors, striking Marie-Laure’s face. Her only sanctuary is in bed, the hem of her quilt at her chin. . .

    WHY READ Doerr’s book??

    • Short chapters, 3-4 pages tops
    • Sighted readers can sense a blind world: “She can hear him smiling.” 73
    “She thinks she can smell threads of dust cascading from the ceiling.” 117
    She can hear snowflakes tick and patter through the tree.” 65
    • Magical metaphors: “And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city had been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.” 110

    Reading the book even inspired me to write a haiku, something about “clouds riding north,” a bit of verse I’m thinking of including in my memoir, illustrating love for nature.

    Your post is a good illustration of the idea of synchronicity, Melodie. Thank you!

    • Obviously I had forgotten about you having read and reviewed this book! But no matter–we both enjoyed the book and I’m glad for the additional info you gave my readers too. Edging in to the blind world is helpful for us all. I didn’t mention another book that does that so well is Dan Bowman’s “From Sight to Insight.”

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