All about World War 2

May 13, 2024
The Greatest World War II

All the Light We Cannot SeeIn the world of fiction, World War II is well-trod territory. Author Anthony Doerr will freely admit that.

"There are so many books written about the war, supposedly if you drop them on Germany it would cover the whole country, " he jokes. He even says that he worried about that as he was writing his new novel, All The Light We Cannot See.

His solution was to "dwell, very specifically" on two new, unfamiliar perspectives of war-ridden Europe. First, there's a young French girl named Marie-Laure, blind and led through the winding streets of coastal citadel Saint-Malo by her locksmith father. Some 500 miles to the east, a German orphan named Werner believes he's escaped to a better life when his talents with radio sweep him up into a Nazi education.

The result is an epic tale of two lives intertwining, as every chapter — each just a few pages long — jumps between viewpoints, countries and times.

Doerr spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about his inspiration for the novel and why it's still important to write and think about World War II.

Interview Highlights

On the very first source of inspiration for the novel

I was on a train heading into Penn Station from Princeton, N.J., and we started going underground. The man in front of me was on his cellphone call — this was in 2004 — and the call dropped. And he got kind of angry, a little embarrassingly angry, unreasonably angry.

And I just remember thinking, what he's forgetting — really what we're all forgetting all the time — is that this is a miracle. He's using this little receiver and transmitter, this little radio in his pocket, to send messages at the speed of light rebounding between towers to somebody maybe thousands of miles away. He might have been talking to someone in Madagascar for all I knew. For me, that's a miracle.

Anthony Doerr is the author of five books of fiction, including his newest novel, All The Light We Cannot See, and the award-winning short story collection The Shell Collector. Isabelle Selby/Simon & Schuster hide caption

toggle caption Isabelle Selby/Simon & Schuster
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