If you read only one book this year, please let it be All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. The book follows two characters as they grow up in the context of World War II. Werner, a German boy, makes his way from an orphanage to Hitler’s army, and Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, escapes from Paris to the seaside in Saint-Malo.
Not only does the book go back and forth between the two characters, it also intersperses their life stories with scenes from later in the war. And it does it all with a kind of poetry, resulting in the best book I have read in quite some time.
Take this moment when Werner is listening for radio transmissions while driving through Ukraine:
It’s late afternoon. All day they have moved through this strange and desolate region and have seen nothing but sunflowers. Werner runs the needle through the frequencies, switches bands, retunes the transceiver again, scouring the static. The air swarms with it day and night, a great, sad, sinister Ukrainian static that seems to have been here long before humans figured out how to hear it.
And Marie-Laure’s father as he worries about how he is raising his daughter alone:
There has always been a sliver of panic in him, deeply buried, when it comes to his daughter: a fear that he is no good as a father, that he is doing everything wrong. That he never quite understood the rules. All those Parisian mothers pushing buggies through the Jardin des Plantes or holding up cardigans in department stores—it seemed to him that those women nodded to each other as they passed, as though each possessed some secret knowledge that he did not. How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?
So go find yourself a copy — and if you ask nicely, I might lend you mine. If I’m not rereading it already.