I don’t think that I have had a single book recommended to me more often, and by a wider variety of people, than Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. A work ten years in the making, Doerr’s novel spans the years of World War II and weaves together the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, a blind French girl residing with her eccentric, agoraphobic great-uncle and a German orphan forced into military school and then enlistment.
As Marie-Laure and Werner witness and experience the tragic destruction — physical, mental, relational, and emotional — wreaked by the war, readers — if not the characters themselves — catch glimmers of light in the interactions and inner lives of the intertwining stories. No doubt the novel is in many ways a dark one, and Doer certainly doesn’t romanticize or gloss over the suffering endured by his characters, but as his title suggests, he demonstrates that, whether or not a person can see the light in their present circumstances, there is light.
As a person who can be easily sucked into a sadness vortex when considering the world (or, as my husband puts it, describing himself, but me, too, “I’m a little bit depressed, a lot of the time”) I need reminders of the light. I know that the light exists, and I also know that we can’t always see it from our particular vantage points. Doer’s book felt like a reassurance: the darkness is large, but the light is there, and maybe life is just about navigating through the darkness and savoring the moments of light.
There’s a line that I loved, towards the very end of the novel, when Marie-Lur is an elderly woman: “Is she happy? For portions of every day is she happy.” It makes me think of one of my favorite Beatles lines: “Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind.”
In a life ultimately framed in sorrow, there are waves of joy. For portions of days predominantly sad, she is happy. I find the knowledge that the lives of others — fictional or real — are described in this way extremely comforting. It normalizes my experience and it reminds me to really lean into and soak up those portions of the day, those waves of joy.