All the Light We Cannot See

[Amazon Link]

This went on my get-at-library list quite a while ago, based on a recommendation of which I have only a dim recollection. Someone at National Review, maybe? I can't find it now.

It also won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Does that mean it's insufferably arty and politically correct? A book where nothing much happens, but there are a bunch of insufferable self-obsessed angsty characters?

No, it's pretty good, honest. A page-turner, actually.

Set around the horrors of World War II, there are two protagonists: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl who's been evacuated from Paris to the "safety" of Saint-Malo. And German orphan Werner Pfennig, whose talent for fixing radios brings him to the attention of the Wehrmacht. These two crazy kids are set on a collision course: Marie-Laure's relatives become associated with the Resistance, and an old radio is used to broadcast information about Nazi activities to the Allies. And Werner finds himself on a small team of soldiers using sophisticated (for the time) triangulation methods to track down and (violently) silence such clandestine broadcasts. Uh oh.

And there's a lot of other stuff going on. Marie-Laure's father is a museum worker, skilled at woodworking, and he builds scale models of their Paris and Saint-Malo neighborhoods to help her visualize her environment. But he's also entrusted to keep an incredibly valuable diamond out of Nazi hands. That makes him (and his family) also a target of von Rumpel, a German agent tasked with looting the riches of occupied Europe.

Anthony Doerr's writing is pretty good, going right up to, but never crossing over into that too-arty territory. I believe (but I may have gotten this wrong) the title refers to the minor miracle that our perception of the light-filled world is entirely within the brain, which is locked inside the total and eternal darkness of the skull. Funny that.

Trivia: page 83, Werner performs one of his genius acts, bringing a Philco owned by an upper-level Nazi back to life. The lady of the house exclaims: "He fixed it just by thinking!"

Wait a damn minute. That's a Richard Feynman story! From America, no Nazis involved.

I was about to accuse Anthony Doerr of ripping off this story, but as it turns out, Doerr gracefully acknowledges the Feynman source in the end matter. Good for him.