Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Audiobook Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See (2014)
Written by Anthony Doerr
Narrated by Zach Appelman
Run Time: 16 hours 2 minutes
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio/Scribner

When All the Light We Cannot See debuted last year, I predicted it was going to be one of the key books of the year. The story seemed tailor-made to my tastes since I'm a World War II-story junkie. As the buzz grew and it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, I anxiously downloaded it for my Kindle, where it then sat for months as my appetite for reading on a digital device waned.

After a family member raved about the audiobook and implored me to read it that way, I gave it a shot. Halfway through me reading the audiobook, Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and the audiobook itself is up for an Audie Award (winners will be announced May 28). The novel has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 52 weeks, as of this writing.

Doerr wrote a lyrical tale of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl who escapes Paris for Saint-Malo with her father who may or may not be in possession of a famous jewel coveted by the Nazis. Meanwhile, in Nazi Germany, Werner Pfennig is raised in an orphanage in a coal mining town, destined to be a miner until he is discovered to be a prodigy with radios. As these two characters journey toward their eventual meeting in Saint-Malo, they meet a number of characters along the way who have been scarred or twisted by the war.

War stories can be brutal and this one has its moments of showing humanity's brutality towards one another. But it has two of the most likable characters I've read in a long time in Marie-Laure and Werner. Both of them are extremely intelligent, overcome obstacles and have strong moral centers while the adults around them degrade into war. It has often been said that "war is hell" and as each minute passed, I was rooting for both of the main characters to survive the conflict.

Zach Appelman provides great narration work here. Rather than using voices, he opts to use subtle voice inflection with slight accents to differentiate the characters and it generally works. The one exception I can think of is the character of Nazi officer Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel, who often sounds like a close relative to Hugo Weaving's Red Skull in the first Captain America movie. It was mildly distracting at first, but given the characters' similarities of being treasure hunting Nazis, it works.

It pains me when I talk to friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances who say, "Oh, I don't read much." As a result, I am occasionally asked about books that would cater to those that are not frequent readers. One of the beauties of this novel is that the chapters are very short, perfect for brief nighttime reading or those with shorter work commutes.

Bonus points to the folks at Simon & Schuster Audio for using Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" as the intro and outro music for the audiobook. "Clair de Lune" is one of my favorite pieces of classical music (I've written most of this review while listening to an extended version). It certainly doesn't hurt to start a book with the tender piano melodies of Debussy's masterpiece, especially when the song factors into the novel itself.

Rating: 5/5 stars. Why, oh why, did I torture myself and wait so long to read and review this book? The novel is terrific and worth every accolade.

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