On Tuesday, April 21, 2015, the book All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was announced as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction. This $10,000 prize is awarded to distinguished fiction by an American author. I was excited to hear about this development, as my own book club had discussed this book recently. As a group, we were quite impressed by the quality of the writing and the intriguing storyline. The novel definitely inspired a lively discussion! Anthony Doerr’s remarkable novel All The Light We Cannot See squarely confronts the daunting task of illuminating the horror of World War II in a compelling and fresh way, concentrating on a human story that touches the emotions and disturbs the soul. At the heart of the story is a blind French girl (Marie-Laure) and an orphaned German boy (Werner) who are drawn together during the War.
The primary reason that this imaginative and intricate novel is a bestseller, and an award winner, is because it delivers a suspenseful and engaging story. The narrative perspective switches between characters, the story jumps back and forth through time, and the reader anxiously waits to learn the fate of Werner and Marie-Laure who are trapped in Saint-Malo. The city is under siege by Allied bombers intent on destroying the German occupying forces. Marie is hiding the Sea of Flames, a valuable and dangerous jewel (there is a legend associated with the diamond) from the Museum of Natural History. Her hidden treasure makes her a target, as do the radio transmissions from her war-time home. Marie-Laure’s future is tied to Werner, as his expertise in building and fixing radios has led him to the war-time position of tracking the resistance (who are sending transmissions to their enemies).
The perfect book club title, this book raises some challenging discussion questions about the line dividing good and evil for people from every nation, life from the perspective of a blind person, what makes a person put themselves at risk, and the significance of all the light we cannot see. I highly recommend this book, and encourage you to borrow a library copy or a book club set for your book club.
There were two other literary award winners announced recently…
Canada Reads 2015 winner: Ru by Kim Thúy
At ten years old, Kim Thúy fled Vietnam on a boat with her family, leaving behind a grand house and the many less tangible riches of their home country: the ponds of lotus blossoms, the songs of soup-vendors. The family arrived in Quebec, where they found clothes at the flea market, and mattresses with actual fleas. Kim learned French and English, and as she grew older, seized what opportunities an immigrant could; she put herself through school picking vegetables and sewing clothes, worked as a lawyer and interpreter, and later as a restaurateur. She was married and a mother when the urge to write struck her, and she found herself scribbling words at every opportunity – pulling out her notebook at stoplights and missing the change to green. The story emerging was one of a Vietnamese emigre on a boat to an unknown future: her own story fictionalized and crafted into a stunning novel. The novel’s title, “Ru,” has meaning in both Kim’s native and adoptive languages: in Vietnamese, ru is a lullaby; in French, a stream. And it provides the perfect name for this slim yet potent novel. With prose that soothes and sings, “Ru” weaves through time, flows and transports: a river of sensuous memories gathering power. It’s a classic immigrant story told in a breathtaking new way. – Publisher’s Summary
After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents–first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother–author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued. They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future. – Publisher’s Summary