All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Book– Do not let the book’s thickness fool you. Knowing that I gravitate towards historical fiction novels, a dear friend of mine recommended All the Light We Cannot See and I could not put it down!

Doerr uses succinct, alternating chapters narrated by a blind French girl and a German boy, illustrating different perspectives of World War II from a child’s point of view. Although the Holocaust, Russian sieges, invasion of Paris, and the Allied Invasion of France are acknowledged, it is worth noting that the author assumes readers have some background on World War II, as the novel’s focus is on how the character’s development is shaped by war conflict.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, who works at the Museum of Natural History. The museum is rumored to hold The Sea of Flames, a jewel whose beholder becomes immortal at the expense of all their loved ones fatal suffering. At six years old, Marie-Laure’s vision deteriorates and she eventually loses her eyesight completely. Despite Marie-Laure’s visual impairment, her father makes it his mission that she learn to navigate on her own. He builds a miniature model of the town so she can tactilely memorize her way about the neighborhood. Fast-forward six years to Nazi-occupied Paris. Seeking refuge, Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo and stay with her agoraphobic great-uncle, and with them, they carry the most valuable and dangerous stone, The Sea of Flames.

Werner is an orphan boy who lives in a mining town in Germany. Fond of applied mathematics and science, he is fully enticed with the processes behind operating and maintaining devices, so much so that he becomes the town’s go-to person for fixing various radios. After another successful repair, Werner is recruited to an academy for Hitler’s Youth, where his talents will be put to use. Werner is kept in the dark regarding the implications of his special assignments to track the resistance. At first, he creates triangles and finds points on a map, and only later comes to realize the destruction caused by his seemingly innocuous actions. Torn between doing what is expected and understanding what is moral, Werner questions his loyalties when he and Marie-Laure’s paths converge in their attempts to survive Saint-Malo’s bombings.

All the Light We Cannot See poses compelling questions about fate, free will, and making the right choice in a time when the pressures of political forces meet moral ambiguities. It is available in book, audiobook on CD, and e-audiobook via OverDrive formats.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

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Book – The Holocaust was one of the most repugnantly dehumanizing historical happenings of the twentieth century. Nazi Germany’s ethnic cleansing systematically killed an estimated six million Jews, as well as persecuted the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, people of color, Slavs and Poles, numerous religious sects, and anyone else not of Aryan descent or who strayed from the political ideologies of the Nazi regime. Germany’s crime was not only on the scale of history, but on the scale of evolution.

The Zookeeper’s Wife recounts how dangerously humans bridle unruly instincts, not always playing by nature’s rules. Author Diane Ackerman uses the diary of the zookeeper’s wife, Antonina, as well as other historical artifacts to transport readers back to a time of Polish revolution in WWII Warsaw. In efforts to protect passerby Jews seeking asylum, Antonina and her husband successfully save the lives of 300 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, by hiding them in animal cages and teaching them how to appear Aryan in the public eye. The Zookeeper’s Wife is a compelling, tragic story that asserts the serious outcomes of combining eugenics with hateful intentions. Additionally, this book was adapted into a movie back in 2017 and is available on the shelves as well.