“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they are closed forever.” – Anthony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See
A Pulitzer-Prize-winning bestseller hardly needs my recommendation. And you likely don’t need another raving review telling you the story line of All the Light We Cannot See, which of course includes a blind French girl and a conflicted Nazi-youth, both coming of age in WWII Europe.
Thus, my reflections today focus on the glorious sea and the power of the radio, especially its music. (no spoliers!)
In horrific situations, both music and the beauty of the sea offer can some comfort.
Werner writes to his sister:
“…what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evenings. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads. It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”
I loved how Doerr used another novel about the sea (though fantastical) – Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – to mirror Marie-Laure’s situation and highlight her passions. It’s hard to break the habit of looking for paper topics, and this is a great use of intertextuality. Will someone else please write this paper so I can read it?
I also loved how this book made me think deeply about the radio and the power it commanded.
“Radio: It ties a million ears to a single mouth.”
Anthony Doerr makes “radio” a character, one that inspires knowledge and hope. The powers of evil, of course, want to stop it from inspiring these things. Radio aids the cause of freedom while putting some people in grave danger. Finally, the radio’s waves connect the primary story lines.
Today we take radio for granted, especially because we can cue up whatever we want to listen to whenever we want, but imagine being at the mercy of whatever station you could pull in – you have to listen to whatever they choose to say or play.
Dubussy’s Claire de Lune
This song figures prominently in the story line.
“…a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.”
“A single piano runs up the scales. Then back down. He listens to the notes and the silences between them, and then finds himself…trudging through snow behind his great-grandfather…”
Listening to this song after reading this book, can’t you imagine being in Frau Elena’s kitchen, the attic of 4 reu Vauborel, or entombed under a hotel in Saint-Malo?
This song, in this book, and outside of it (just read the comments under the YouTube song link above!) offers memories, hope, redemption, and love.
Listen to it now. What will it offer you?
This post is dedicated to my Granny Sweet who got strength from the sea, wanted to play her music loudly, and loved listening to her radio all night long.
Also to Saint-Malo which I visited once and promised to return; I didn’t realize it would be through a book first.