All The Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for October 2015


What is the significance of the book’s title? What is this light we cannot see? Is there a universal theme is this question?

Consider the two opening epigraphs. Why does the author want us to consider these quotations before starting the novel?

How does the structure of the novel affect your reading experience? Does it help to build your understanding of the characters and history or does it interfere with the reading experience?

The Sea of Flames plays a critical role in the novel. Ultimately it brings the story together. Why does this stone with a legacy of superstition yield such importance? Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?

When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This…is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear?

What is Frederick’s role in the novel? There is some reference to the cruelty of the Nazi regime and the complicity of non-Jewish bystanders, but it is not the direct focus of the novel. Is Frederick a fully fleshed out character or does he indirectly serve to reveal the complexities of Werner’s persona and the war in general?

On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages? How does the reader experience blindness? Is this a strength of the novel?

What is Werner’s defining moment?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?
(Some questions adapted from the publisher.)

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