Pulitzer Prize: Anthony Doerr’s lesson in light

Here he lands on our shores, this American novel haloed with glory, which evokes the dark years 1939-1945 in France and Germany. A novel of shadow and light, “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Literature 2015. We understand why by starting the first chapter – two shocking paragraphs, featuring Saint- Malo, August 7, 1944 at the dawn of the bombardment by the Allies.

In a house in the Saint-Malo city lives Marie-Laure, a blind sixteen-year-old refugee with her father with an uncle, in 1940. Not far away, at the Hôtel des Abeilles, stays Werner, a young soldier of the Wermacht, a signal genius , supposed to pick up radio messages from the resistance fighters. In 600 dazzling pages, Anthony Doerr will tell their story and cross their destinies – the moment of love at first sight in a Europe devastated by barbarism.

The singularity of this “page-turner” is that it frees itself from the historical and/or sentimental novel. Although well documented, it opts for pure fiction, even introducing a dose of fantasy: the story of a cursed blue diamond, kept at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and soon coveted by the disturbing Nazi major Von Rumpel.

dark force

Under the pen of Anthony Doerr, pre-war Paris – where Marie-Laure was born – is a dream Paris. The Ruhr mining village, where Werner spent his childhood as an orphan, is reminiscent of Grimm’s dark tales. The night falling on the world seems to emanate from a mythical dark force. But phantasmagoria in no way waters down historical truth.

The writer lucidly dismantles the stuffing of the Hitlerian skull – in the elite school where the young Werner is admitted. Through the character of Claude, the perfumer from Saint-Malo, he paints the typical portrait of the “collaborator” – a mix of greed, cynicism and cowardice. As for the acts of rebellion of the governess, Madame Manec, they illustrate what the Resistance was like on a daily basis.

Marie-Laure, the blind man, and Werner, the boy who does not want to see the horror, are a priori doomed to hell. However, from their meeting will be born the light. That of humanity (re)found, assumed. A drop of love in an ocean of hate, and the world can be saved. Romance novel, novel of gesture, humanist fable: the 2015 Pulitzer Prize is all of these. The rare work of an electric writer who defies darkness, rekindles the light with words.

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Pulitzer Prize: Anthony Doerr’s lesson in light