I recently crossed these two stories off my must-read list, and, as they both are stories about France during WWII, I thought I would review them together.
Let’s start with ‘All The Light We Cannot See,’ by Anthony Doerr. This book not only offers a unique perspective on what life might have been like during the war, as one of the main characters is blind, it also includes a treasure hunt of sorts. It was action packed right from the start, so you really want to finish and find out what happens to the characters.
I liked that this was half told from the perspective of a blind girl, Marie-Laure. For me, it made me think how much scarier it must have been to not be able to see what was happening around you, and also how much more heightened the sounds and the smells must have been. It is also interesting, as a parent, to read about what her father does and does not do, or says or does not say to try and shield her from as much as she can.
It was also interesting reading from the perspective of the boy prodigy, Werner, who goes to an elite German school to become a soldier. I was both sickened and saddened by the process of making the boys into soldiers. I know it is a work of fiction, but I’m sure it was based on research of what they were actually like, and it was truly horrific the things taught to them.
As thrilling and compelling as the story was, I felt like the ending just kind of ended, if that makes any sense. I don’t want to give anything away, but I just felt that compared to the rest of the story it could have been better.
I really liked this book, and I thought I loved it. But then I read the next book…
‘The Nightingale,’ by Kristin Hannah. Do not read this book unless you have 24–48 hours free time! I read this book in two days. It would have been one if I was toddler free. I took it with me in the car to read on the way to the grocery store and the park, I brought it to the dinner table, I took it everywhere with me until I was finished. It’s that good.
The first sentence says ‘If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.’ That is the essence of this story. It is two young women fighting their own battles, the best that they can.
Initially I felt drawn more to the younger character Isabelle. She is passionate about making a difference and she isn’t going to let anything get in her way of helping…not her age, the fact that she’s a woman, or the fact that no one seems to want her around. She fights for a vital role in helping the Allies, wins respect, and gains a sense of belonging that she has yearned for.
In the beginning, I thought that her older sister, Vianne, was weak and cowardly. I didn’t like that she didn’t stand up for herself, and was too self-absorbed to see the good in her sister. As the story progresses, she gets pushed farther and farther out of her comfort zone. With her husband away at the front, she has no choice but to swallow her fears and become strong enough to get her family through this war.
This book has you asking yourself all kinds of questions: How much would you be willing to endure, just to survive? What would you do to protect your own children? How much would you risk to protect your friends and their children? Would you have the courage to fight back against a force that seems so much bigger and stronger than you are?
Most importantly, this book makes you realize that heroes are found in unlikely places, and that we have far more courage than we think we do.
Both of these stories are very good reads, and I would recommend both of them, especially if you love books about WWII like I do. But if you have to pick just one, make it ‘The Nightingale.’