🥇 5/5 All the Light We Cannot See

🖋️ By Anthony Doerr
📖 I read the hard cover version.

These are summary notes of surprising information, written so I can better remember what I read.

Long ago, this book first taught me the value of putting down my nonfiction obsession…

Fiction contains larger truths than can be contained by facts.

I credit this book with giving me many moments, each fleeting, of peace and wonder on my commute to school in Philadelphia. Thank you for helping me arrive more curious then when I left.

I’m finishing this book after starting and stopping a handful of times since first seeing it in high school.


It’s a beautiful tale that alternates between the perspectives of a german boy and a french gril. The boy gets sucked into the military (and gets good with radios / electronics). The girl’s dad is a locksmith at a french museum, and she ends up taking care of a huge diamond called the Sea of Flames, the stuff of legends. The girl is blind, apparently giving meaning to the title.

It haunts me how little there is to say of a man’s death.

How do you live with loss, or trauma. How do those memories dance uncontrollably in your head.

Beautifully full circle. What answers did she hope to find?

Notable quotes

  • “A scientists work, cadet, is determined by two things. His interests and the interests of his time. Do you understand?” “I think so.” “We live in exceptional times, cadet.” (154)
  • “Berlin! The very name like two sharp bells of glory. Capital of science, seat of the fuhrer, nursery to Einstein, Staudinger, Bayer. Somewhere in theses streets, plastic was invented, X-rays were discovered, continental drift was identified. What marvels does science cultivate here now? Superman soldiers, Dr. Hauptmann says, and weather-making machines, and missiles that can be steered by men a thousand miles away.” (218)
  • I imagine this is what it’s like to work at Facebook:
    “Werner is succeeding. He is being loyal. He is being what everybody agrees is good. And yet every time he wakes and buttons his tunic, he feels he is betraying something.” (250)
  • Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever. (264)
  • For Werner, doubts turn up regularly. Racial purity, political purity–Bastian speaks to a horror of any sort of corruption, and yet, Werner wonders in the dead of night, isn’t life a kind of corruption? A child is born, and the world sets in upon it. Taking things from it, stuffing things into it. Each bite of food, each particle of light entering the eye–the body can never be pure. But this is what the commandant insists upon, why the Reich measures the noses, clocks their hair color. The entropy of a closed system never decreases. (276)
  • Her glasses are gone, and her pupils look like they are full of milk, but strangely they do not unnerve him. He remembers a phrase of Frau Elena’s: belle laide. Beautiful ugly. (469)
  • He thinks of the old broken miners he’d seen in Zollverein, sitting in chairs or on crates, not moving for hours, waiting to die. To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill on single drop. (476)
  • Volkheimer paces in the harsh dazzle of the billboard lights and feels his loneliness on him like a disease. (498)

I think about the idea that I will never know hunger. Hunger is described a lot in this book, here are a few I liked:

  • “You will never know hunger”
  • The unsteady feeling in her legs, she knows, stems from hunger. (212)
  • For these past days–how many?–it has felt as thought the hunger were a hand inside him, thrusting around the cavity of his chest, reaching up to his shoulder blades, then down into his pelvis. Scraping at his bones. Today, though–or is it tonight?–the hunger peters out like a flame for which no fuel remains. Emptiness and fullness, in the end, somehow the same. (449).

So many times Marie Laure, the blind girl, is starving while holding a can of food in her hands. She imagines drinking it into her mouth, peach juice delighting her taste, but she can’t open it because enemies are all about and they need to stay silent and hidden.

It’s a beautiful book that’s worth of your time all the way through.

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