After Reading “All the Light We Cannot See”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about putting off reading “All the Light We Cannot See” because of my reluctance to read much-hyped books. Well, today, I finished it. All 530 pages. It started out slow for me. But, I kept on. I’m not yet one of those lucky souls who can give up on a book after reading their set limit of 10, 15, 20 pages and justify it by saying, “there are too many books out there to read!” If I start, I’m compelled to finish. I’m so glad I continued with this one. The last half of the book flowed more easily and was relevant, informative, superbly written, and hauntingly beautiful. My sweet friend was right when she insisted I read this book: I did have to close my eyes after some sentences just to drink in the images. And some images were painted so perfectly, that they sketched painful outlines in my imagination of a time that I can only know about through reading. Of a time that I and future generations must never forget, lest we allow it to happen again. Or it happens while we are not paying attention.

One paragraph made me stop, put the book down, and close my eyes:

“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.
–page 468 (UK pb ed. emphasis mine)

Not only does Anthony Doerr describe the miraculous beginning stages of life so eloquently, but the juxtaposition of that last sentence really created an explosion in my ears. With it he brought me into the story. This, the difficult journey of being a human, I understand. And in that moment, I also felt empathy for all who were involved without a choice, in this man-made drama–the orphaned children, the women who were raped, the too-young German soldiers (like Werner) forcefully used as pawns, ordinary men and women working covertly to help others, the Jews (and everyone else) who were uprooted and worse, the heroes, the survivors, those who perished, and my god, everyone who endured this and any other horrible wars. We are born, we have hopes and dreams, and then the world starts in on us. This is why I read. To know what I might not have known and felt in my heart, otherwise.

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Author’s photo Lewes, East Sussex, UK October 2013


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