Review by David Steinberg

A book on the New York Times bestseller list is of course a feather in the author’s cap.

Staying on that list – in this case, print/hardcover/fiction – for 40-plus weeks counts for a nest of feathers.

Anthony Doerr’s novel “All the Light We Cannot See” was released last May. So we know the popularity of the book. But it doesn’t explain why, why has it maintained its popularity?

Let me tell you my opinion of its sustaining power. It is a tender story of families told from two viewpoints – that of a blind, teenage French girl, Marie-Laure, and an orphaned teenage German boy, Werner, who’s a whiz with radio repairs and obsessed with radio transmissions. The time is just before and during World War II.

It is a novel about how both cope with severe wartime deprivations and how radio transmissions reconnect them.

Werner is drafted in the German army, surviving hardships on the Eastern Front, in Austria and in the coastal French town of Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure ends up in Saint-Malo after fleeing the Nazi invasion of Paris with her father, a museum locksmith. Living hand-to-mouth, she’s a help to the Resistance.

It is also a novel about a mysterious diamond that holds promise and fear. A German army official, von Rumpel, seeks it in his search for booty of prized jewels and art for the Fatherland. Von Rumpel, Marie-Laure and Werner head for a dramatic triangular showdown.

It is as well a novel about how two people deal with love – Marie-Laure’s for her father and Werner’s for his sister.

There is yet another aspect of the novel that is significant – Doerr’s writing. It is a literary gem.

It radiates with light, the word expressed in many forms. Here’s a handful of quotes :

-“…and sees the ghost of Madame Manec standing there in the moonlight.”

-“…who ruled from within a blur of light.”

-“Dust floats through the feeble beam of the flashlight…”

-“…and watches the light from the burning cottage rise above the field.”

-“But they will not need light to use the rifle.”

-“No lamplight anywhere.”

-“The daylight dulls to gold.”

The book (Scribner, $27) was a finalist for the National Book Award. The author, Doerr, also wrote the story collections “Memory Wall” and “Shell Collector,” the novel “About Grace” and the memoir “Four Seasons in Rome.” He has received four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the Rome Prize and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award.

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