In honor of Mothers Day, the theme for May was “A book your Mother Loved” and my mother picked “All the Light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. It was somewhat unsurprising to me that the book was about WWII, growing up in a Jewish home I recall learning about the Holocaust at a very early age (for better or worse!) but the book filled in some gaps about France, which other book club members also admitted they weren’t all that familiar with either. Book club member Kate put it well when summarizing the book “It’s a feminist book about a badass 15 year old who’s life keeps changing for the worse.” And it’s true! Marie-Laure Leblanc becomes blind at some point in her childhood, when she’s 12 the Nazis occupy Paris and she has to flee her home to travel a great distance and move in with relatives she doesn’t know, one of which has been described as “crazy” her entire life. We can now identify that her uncle isn’t crazy, but had severe PTSD with possible agoraphobia, neither of which were widely understood at the time. Book club member Emily Gallery liked the relationship between Marie Laure and her uncle because they were both in some way considered “challenged but not broken,” and they banded together. When Marie-Laure’s father left her to go on a mission involving a rare stone, I found myself frustrated that he left his disabled daughter and risked the trip.
The theme of adoptive children was constant throughout the book. That theme continued when we look at a parallel running story of Werner, a young German boy who was very smart and good with electronics. He was growing up with his sister in an orphanage. My mother pointed out that this was the first book she’d ever read that humanized the Nazis and that surprised her, it surprised me too. If you believe the book, many of the children in Germany didn’t have a choice but to join in with the SS and for many, by the time they realized what the mission was, it was too late, they’d be killed as deserters.
Book club member Sujal pointed out that the author was just some guy from Ohio, and a lot of the information given seemed to come right out of an American high school text book. This lead to a great discussion about what we learned in school. Like other countries, it seems we were mostly taught what made America look the best which we agreed left gaps in our education.
One of my favorite themes was (of course) THE POWER OF RADIO!! The book really demonstrated how radio was a tool to spread knowledge, music, culture and love, which is probably why the Nazis were on a mission to confiscate them all. As they described an educational program connecting two young people in different parts of the world, I imagined it like Bill Nye the Science guy, educating children but through spoken word only. People were desperate to hold onto their radios, seemingly to lift other people’s spirits as much as their own.
Some of us found the jumping around of timelines to be a bit confusing, and it wasn’t a favorite read, but for the most part it was enjoyable. I hope it never comes to it, but I’d happily join a resistance and bake messages into bread loafs.