Tuesday, February 10, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

I don't know how it works, but it seems like we always have twelve people at a meeting.  Kareen is wandering in the wilderness so I knew she wouldn't be there today and I got emails from three of the usual suspects, notifying me that they would be absent, and thus we were an even dozen.  For a book that was enthusiastically embraced by all, I was surprised that we still spent an hour and half in discussion - before moving onto measles and other childhood illnesses for another half hour.  I can't remember how we segued into that discussion.

Connie, Jenny and I agreed that the chapters moving back and forth in time was difficult until we got the hang of it and that's perhaps the only criticism we had.  Kathy commented in an email that she loved the short chapters and Doerr's style of writing. That's the first thing Joann said today and we immediately agreed.  Patricia quipped that you can tell Doerr isn't a historian because they write dense prose, making a sentence last for a whole paragraph. The thing we came back to again and again was how this was a story of the children, victims of the regime, and as Patricia was quick to point out, this is a universal story, not limited to WW II.

We talked about how the Nazi youth, the Jungmanner, were measured to be worthy by their Teutonicness, i.e., blond hair, blue eyes and no glasses. And how cruelty was honed amongst a camp of 400 boys as in the Lord of the Flies.  And we talked about Frederick and what the war did to dreamers.  We talked about the model villages Marie-Lauren's devoted father made so she would be able to competently navigate on her own, knowing that Nazis hated flawed people.

We all wanted so much more for Werner.  Claudia said, he had so much potential!  We romantics had hoped for a liaison in the future, but Joann noted that he was dying of dysentery and was clearly doomed.  In that case Patricia said she preferred the landmine to a slow decline.  We compared Volkheimer's haunted life to what Werner's might have been, had he lived.  Would he escape the ghosts of the murdered woman and her daughter?  Would he have been capable of a liaison??

We loved the group of ladies at the bakery, especially Madame Manac, and their decision to take a stand against the Nazis.  Doerr wanted to write about occupied France and their subversive use of radios which he wrote convincingly through this group of ladies, including the blind Marie-Laure. Madame Manac justified her rebellion to Etienne when she asked, "Don't you want to be alive before you die?"

And the whole tie-in between Werner and Jutta and the radio broadcasts they covertly listened to as children that changed the course of their lives - that it should be Etienne's house they were broadcast from, and now the no-long-terrified Etienne used that same radio to broadcast information to the Allies.  Brilliant!

Joanne asked if we thought the curse myth around the Sea of Flames had merit.  She said she thought it was hinted at but wasn't dealt with conclusively, though everything around Etienne's house was bombed, yet it stood.  She said that's how von Rumpel knew it was there.  Darlene said that in the museum it was guarded by 14 locks. And then there was the loaded meeting of Werner and Marie-Laure, the house, the jewel and the key.  Werner knew nothing of the stone's history but why did Marie-Laure give him the key and why did he take the house, leave the jewel and replace it with the key??  If the jewel is cursed, though covered in algae and barnacles, Joann wondered if the curse was just percolating, waiting for an unwitting discoverer.

We didn't have any conclusions to that scenario, but fast-forward to 2014.  We felt the book would have successfully closed with Frederick and his mother - "Oh Freddie.  We're just sitting. We're just sitting and looking out at the night."  Why did Doerr introduce just four pages in the future?  We thought it might have been an editorial note.  Her grandson talked about getting "killed" in his video game.  And Marie-Laure - "Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was a memory falls out of the world."  He leaves you to decide.