Tag Archives: novels

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Five-hundred-forty-four pages, Scribner.

 

f_doerr_allthelight_fMy first thought was, not another book about war. I seem to have read so many for my book club lately. However, just a handful of pages into this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, pre-conceived notions evaporated and I became immersed in Doerr’s vivid storytelling.

This is the tale of a blind French girl and a gifted German boy whose lives intersect during the war. Marie-Laure is a young girl living in Paris with her father at the cusp of Germany’s invasion of France. Six-year-old Marie-Laure is losing her eyesight as her single father does his best to raise her in a world cruel to those with disabilities. He builds a miniature reconstruction of their neighbourhood so she can find her way. Marie-Laure’s blindness doesn’t deter her curious mind and growing intellect. Her days are spent at the Museum of Natural History where her father is a talented locksmith.

The German invasion has the pair scrambling for the relative safety of the walled town of St. Malo where her great uncle lives. Her father appears to be entrusted with an item of extreme cultural importance and monetary value. He hides this object in an intricate wooden puzzle box and takes it with them to St. Malo. Marie-Laure becomes the owner of the puzzle box when her father disappears. The arduous journey to St. Malo is the beginning of an innocent girl’s recruitment into the dangerous resistance movement that at turns risks her life and saves it.

As Marie-Laure’s marvelous story unfolds, we read a parallel tale about a young boy named Werner who lives in an orphanage in Germany. He develops the ability to fix and make radios. His talents at first rescue him from a life of poverty, the destiny that awaits all the children at the orphanage. Gradually, his eagerness to please and brilliant mind end up being harnessed by the brutal Third Reich. Chapter by chapter, events in each character’s life bring them one step closer to their fateful encounter.

Simply told and elegantly written, this tale seized me by the heart as it drew images of goodness, evil and the shifting margin that separates them. Though Marie-Laure is blind for most of the novel, she sees more than others. The ability to sense good and bad saves her when not only does the war turn up on her doorstep but forces itself inside.

While touched by Marie-Laure’s narrative, I was sickened by Werner’s transformation from sympathetic and endearing boy to a Nazi soldier tasked with unspeakable missions. Marie-Laure and Werner’s stories equally crushed my heart and made my spirit soar.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go Bernadette by By Maria Semple.

Three-hundred-and-thrity pages, Little, Brown and Company.

bernadetteBernadette Fox is someone I’d love to know. She’s the main character in the novel and she’s original, creative, sarcastic, edgy and a little crazy. I just wouldn’t want to be her.

We meet Bernadette as the doting but eccentric mother to impressionable young Bee, a 15 year-old girl attending a tony private school in Seattle. Bernadette doesn’t get along with the other moms who she calls gnats, is a semi-recluse and the wife of a Microsoft star. She spends her days writing in a Gulfstream trailer parked outside her house while her partner climbs to greatness.

When Bernadette promises Bee a trip to Antarctica if she brings home a straight A report card, Bernadette never imagines her daughter could pull it off. She does and the quirky, unorthodox planning, which involves a virtual assistant in India, ensues. But before the epic trip to Antarctica can take place, Bernadette mysteriously disappears and we wonder if she’ll ever return.

Bee’s obsessive search for her mother takes her and her father to the end of the world and back. Much of the book rests on the mother-daughter relationship and unconditional love. You’re more than halfway through the book before you discover Bernadette’s genius and what began her toying with madness.

The droll, laugh-out-loud and at times serious story is told in emails, letters and FBI correspondence among other formats. Author Maria Semple evokes the wit and sarcasm of comedian Ellen De Generes and that’s no surprise since she’s a former writer for the TV show, Ellen, staring De Generes. Semple sends up the Subaru-driving, over-achieving, environmentally-concerned, politically correct, status conscious suburban moms of Seattle to the point of caricature.

I couldn’t put this one down folks. It’s a compulsive read.

Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

cellist.jpgPutting a face on the horrors of war and celebrating determination are the hallmarks of the Cellist of Sarajevo. There are actually three faces here and the book’s chapters skip from person to person to person and their individual struggles with the Bosnian war. The three main characters never meet and lead completely separate lives in Sarajevo.

Kenan is a husband and father who is stripped of the ability to work and earn a living. He now fetches fresh drinking water weekly for his family. Each treacherous journey may be his last. Dragan is an older man who has hung on to his job at a bakery and lives with his sister and her family, having sent his own family to safety in Italy. Arrow is an unlikely army recruit; a reluctant sharpshooter who chooses her own targets.

The three protagonists have one thing in common: They risk their lives to watch the cellist of Sarajevo perform Albinoni’s Adagio weekly in a public square. The sad slow piece is the cellist’s personal tribute to the 22 souls who lost their lives standing in line for bread when they came under mortar fire.

This is a fictional account of real life cellist Vedran Smailović who did actually play Albinoni’s Adagio and other classical pieces among the ruins of Sarajevo. That’s where reality ends and Galloway’s imagination takes over as he creates characters living around the unnamed cellist’s weekly performances.

Galloway writes clearly and simply with vivid details of life’s daily struggles in a city under siege but only one character really engaged me and she is Arrow. Galloway delves into her mind to explain her internal conflict with her role in the war. I wanted to know more about her. With Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper currently glorified in the media, Galloway’s more complicated, darker and ultimately hopeless portrait has an opposite effect.

For me, Arrow saved this book.