So it’s been awhile since the Great Donnybrook of ’13, but the Book Catapult’s party bus is taking off again, friends.
As anyone who knows me from my bookselling youth at Warwick’s recalls, I’ve been a big proponent of Anthony Doerr’s work for a long, long while now – beginning with his debut novel, About Grace a decade back. He’s written two award-winning collections of short stories, (The Shell Collector and Memory Wall) a memoir of his time in Rome, and dozens of essays about everything from butterflies and narwhal to deep space and having too many books to read. His latest novel – ten years in the making – All the Light We Cannot See, is on sale this week and just might be the best piece of writing Tony has produced to date.
To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.
Marie-Laure is a 12-year-old blind girl living in Paris with her father at the outbreak of World War II. Her father is the master of locks for the Natural History Museum (dream job!) and once the war begins, he is tasked with keeping the museum’s greatest treasure safe from the encroaching German armies. He takes his daughter to the northern walled, seaside town of Saint-Malo to stay with his reclusive uncle, where both Marie-Laure and their precious cargo will be safe. (Well, safer.) Not so far away, yet light years apart, German Werner Pfennig grows up with a fascination for radio and how sound travels through the air. He gets noticed and conscripted into the Hitler Youth and inevitably, the Nazi war machine. How will the lives of these two characters – so vastly different in the lots they’ve drawn in life – how will they intersect to form the greater whole? The Tony Doerr Voltron. The answer is subtle and graceful, yet hidden in the center of an elaborate labyrinth of humanity that Doerr has created.
Here’s the thing – you can clearly see the narrative filaments that Doerr has laid out for you, set off on their trajectories and you know, deep down, that they will somehow come together down the line. Throughout, as Marie-Laure navigates through her sightless world (that is anything but dark, in actuality) and Werner struggles with the vague morality of his duty as a soldier, you see the threads being gradually drawn together in front of your eyes. The difference is, the moment itself is so fleeting – almost painfully so – that it somehow is all the more awe-inspiring and gorgeous as a result. It left me pondering the impact of all those seemingly innocuous, insignificant moments we have in life and how innocently we may each touch each others lives. Phew.
So, save the date, get a babysitter lined up, hold all your calls – Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 in the evening at Warwick’s bookstore in the La Jolla ‘hood of San Diego, Tony and I will be discussing this magnificent All the Light We Cannot See as well as the rest of his work, both past, present, and future. Plus anything else that strikes our fancy. It’s a real thing. This isn’t some ruse. It’s gonna be great.
If you’d like to buy the book, head over to Warwick’s. For godsake, don’t do anything dumb like buy it from Amazon or Walmart. It’s independent booksellers that are bringing amazing authors like Mr. Doerr to your town, not the big behemoths, so support your local businesses. Thanks.