Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful story of highly sympathetic characters, painted with vivid imagery, albeit written with contrived and flowery metaphors, orphan events and plot threads, and strangely short chapters and a jagged timeline.

A dozen pages in, the author seemed to have a thing for flowery metaphors…I felt strongly that this takes one out of a story and into a performance.

For instance:

The windowpanes rattle in their housings. The anti-air guns unleash another volley. The earth rotates a bit farther.

‘Farther’ is a definition of distance. It is inconceivable that any human being senses passage of short spans of time in a distance traveled by the earth (which it does not if it rotates) – a superfluous, arguably erroneous, metaphor for duration, one that does not color the passing of time with dread or anticipation as may be intended during a bombing raid.

Besides, William Strunk Jr. (The Elements of Style) would likely cringe at the overuse of the word ‘the’ above.

Another example on that same page:

Now the bombers are so close that the floor starts to throb under her knees.

For a floor to throb, or pulsate at a low and discernible frequency (as in one’s biological pulse), and for this to be felt, through one’s knees of all things, large machines must pound the ground rhythmically…and with bombers droning far above ack-ack (which term I believe is the period short form, not ‘anti-air’) fire reach, this is most unlikely. A contrived, unconvincing, effort at imagery.

I confess: having encountered such metaphors early, given my strong affinity for authenticity, I began speed-reading the book, skipping most if not all such passages.

It is then that I saw how short chapters were. One and a half pages, and sometimes less? I found it hard to synchronize with the structure, the design of the book. The timeline shifts compounded this difficulty.

And what is with the gem with magical powers? What symbolic, significant, role does it play in furthering the story, and enhancing the lives and experiences of the protagonists? What did the torment of Ferdinand (or was it Frederick?) provide a diligent reader? The brief description of a protagonists sister’s brutal encounter with invading soldiers also seemed out of place and unnecessary – especially if the author intended unbiased historical accuracy in depicting horrors of war.

This is clearly a work of fiction, one that does insufficient justice to an endearing story of two very human lives, a story that could perhaps have been narrated with far greater elegance, meaning, and effect. Nevertheless, it is lucidly written, colorfully portrayed, and enjoyable in its inventiveness.

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About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility ( is his first mainstream nonfiction. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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