Week 3: Discussion of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all-the-light-we-cannot-seeAnna and I would like to welcome you to the third discussion of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

For this week, we’ve read sections four and five.  Feel free to join the conversation in the comments.

What did you think about the section set during the bombing? I am more scared for Marie-Laure than ever with von Rumpel in her house!

SERENA: Von Rumpel seems to be dying and yet his utter determination to get this diamond is amazing and ridiculous at the same time.  As he’s inside the house, I fear that Marie-Laure will be his next victim, and that’s a fate I would wish on no one.  He’s a patient man and determined, but with time running out for him, he might rely on less psychological tactics to get what he wants.

ANNA:  The differences in views on the diamond between Marie-Laure’s father and von Rumpel are interesting. Her father wanted the diamond to be gone, and von Rumpel is seeking it out because of some crazy belief that it will save him. At the library, he was so patient and calculating, but now that he’s closing in, I am worried for Marie-Laure that he will resort to violence. I’m sure whatever happens between the two will indicate whether there is any truth to the legend. It’s an interesting aspect to the story, that’s for sure.

Do you think Werner is done for?  It seems that there is no way out.

ANNA:  Yes, I am afraid that it’s not looking good for Werner. If he manages to survive this, I hope it’s done in a realistic way and not something unbelievable and outlandish. I was thinking that Marie-Laure had a better chance of surviving than Werner, but now I’m not so sure that either will survive! I wonder if I’m going to need tissues to finish this book!

SERENA: I fear that there will be crying…ugly crying…  I don’t think Werner will survive, unless by some miracle he is trapped in there with the miracle-making diamond!

ANNA:  Oh, ugly crying for sure!

Do you think there’s any hope for Werner to continue under these circumstances without succumbing to the Nazi brainwashing? He seems to be fighting it, with Frederick and Jutta in mind, but there seems to be no escape for him.

SERENA: I agree there’s something in his make-up that is fighting the brainwashing, and it seems as though he might be able to fool others into thinking he’s on board with it all. I’m sure there will be someone who does not buy into his loyalty to the cause.  I think he’s finally begun to realize that the escape from being an orphan and coal miner’s son is more like a prison, and it’s likely to get more suffocating to him before it gets better.

ANNA: Werner has already seen how impossible his situation is. He asks to go home, and Hauptmann gets him sent to the front. Is he being sent to the technology division because Hauptmann thinks he’ll be useful, or is it in retaliation for a sign of weakness? The cold reception he got from Hauptmann makes me think it’s the latter.

How do you think his visit with Frederick will affect his outlook once he moves to his new position in Berlin?

ANNA:  I honestly have no idea how seeing Frederick again will affect him in the long run. It seems that he feels a lot of guilt about the fact that he didn’t stick up for Frederick when he was being bullied, but Werner was haunted by the future he would have had otherwise in the coal mines. Would that have been a better fate than what’s likely to happen to him now? Probably, as he would have at least kept his sense of self. I thought it was touching that Werner was looking for Frederick’s bird books. I wonder if Werner felt a sense of hopelessness because Frederick could have been so much more than how he ended up. That puts him in a similar situation; Werner’s self and thoughts are hardly his own anymore, and he’d had such high hopes for his future. I guess we’ll see what happens, whether it causes him to lose that bit of resistance or makes it stronger. What do you think?

SERENA: I think Werner will be empowered by Frederick’s fate.  I think he will learn from his mistake and make better choices.  I love that he’s seen first hand what happens to those who do not conform because it is sure to make him more careful in his choices, more diligent.  His resistance I think will be more hidden than say Madame Manec.

I love the idea of Madame Manec and the other women of Saint-Malo turning into unsuspecting resistance fighters. What do you think of Etienne’s reaction to Madame Manec’s fierce need to act against the German occupiers? Etienne seems to know things, as Madame Manec indicates, things that he wouldn’t know if all he did was hide in his room all day. Do you think Etienne is involved in the resistance as well?

SERENA:  I love that Manec is recruiting people in the village to resist, but I think she still views Etienne as weak and broken — a side that Marie-Laure clearly doesn’t see as much.  He seems to be using this perception of himself to observe the world around him and its changes — to take note of who is loyal to France and who is loyal only to greed as well as Germany.  The one lone transmitter that’s left seems like it could be part of the equation here.  Perhaps he is part of the resistance and that’s what he uses unbeknownst to anyone else.  It seems his reaction to Manec’s efforts is born out of fear of being discovered.  Do you think he is in the resistance?

ANNA:  I do think Etienne is part of the resistance. In the very first scenes of the book, when the bombing occurs, he seems to be a prisoner; I’m just wondering what for. He seems too knowledgeable about things to not have some sort of connection. The French flags are a huge clue where his loyalties lie, and though he burns them, the transmitter remains. If he were overly frightened, he would have given up the transmitter or destroyed it. Maybe he is just worried that Madame Manec and her crew will be careless in some way and lead the Germans to his door.

Why do you think Harold Bazin gave Marie-Laure the key to the hidden grotto?

SERENA: I think that grotto is a place for the resistance to meet, and I think he knew his number was up and that he’d be rounded up by the Germans.  It’s secret and a place that maybe they can move with the tides in and out without being detected.  It may even be a place for her to get help and hide from von Rumpel, etc.

ANNA:  I agree that I think he knew he was going to be arrested. I also think he is trying to protect Marie-Laure, since he specifically asked if she would be able to find it again. Whether he wants to protect her because of her blindness or her connections to the resistance, or both, I don’t know. It seems like it will factor into the story in some significant way at some point.

In this section, both Werner and Marie-Laure have lost people who are important to them. Werner no longer has any real contact with his sister, and Frederick no longer remembers him. Marie-Laure must now contend with the death of Madame Manec on top of the arrest of her father. How do you think these losses will affect them going forward? Do you think Marie-Laure will become part of the resistance?

SERENA:  I think these losses are devastating to them, but while they mourn them, they are going to be forced to deal with the realities of their situation.  Marie-Laure is a lot stronger than we think, and I would almost bet on her joining the resistance.  Seems like a sure thing to me.  Werner is going to be forced to determine how to handle these losses and his “need” to conform.  That’s going to be very tough, especially as the pressure on Germany inevitably heats up and the “superiority” of the regime cracks.

ANNA:  I agree about Marie-Laure. She has been strong since the beginning of the book and especially where the story fast-forwards. Werner’s inner conflicts are bound to increase, and it will be interesting to see how he handles them.

What are you hoping to see in the next sections?

ANNA: I hope to learn more about Etienne. Is he part of the resistance? I hope to see both Marie-Laure and Werner use their losses and trials in a positive way, despite the fact that things are likely only going to get worse for them. I’m curious about what will happen to Werner when he goes off to war, specifically how he finds himself in Saint-Malo. You?

SERENA:  I would love to see Etienne and Marie-Laure team up, even if it isn’t directly to help the resistance.  Wouldn’t it be comical if they were both helping and didn’t know that their mysterious information is coming from one another for a long while?  I would enjoy that.  Werner is off at war, but how does he get there? Does his internal resistance get him sent there or is it more like his mentor takes his ideas and pushes him out to take all the credit?  It’s definitely going to be interesting.

ANNA:  That would be humorous! I’m also interested in seeing how Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories converge. We probably won’t see that in the sections for next week, but I’m eagerly awaiting that.

SERENA: Me, too!

That’s it for this week.  Please feel free to answer the questions in the comments and continue the discussion by asking questions of your own.

We hope you’ll stop by next Friday, March 24 for our discussion of Sections 6 and 7.  Happy reading!


  1. I really enjoyed our discussion! I can’t wait to see what Laura thinks about these sections.

  2. It was a good discussion, and we’ll be doing it again next week.

  3. I agree with you all about being scared for Marie with von Rumpel in the house. Etienne is an interesting character, love the resistance too.

  4. Irene, I agree….Etienne is interesting…he’s so odd.

  5. As I was listening with Von Rumpel in the house with Marie-Laure I was so scared for her. How terrifiying to not have your sight. I would feel so helpless. How do you defend what you can’t see.

    I also love the idea of Madame Manec and the other women of Saint-Malo turning into unsuspecting resistance fighters. I often wonder if I would be brace enough to help people. I think I would be. As for Etienne I do think he’s involved somehow but he’s a very hard character to read at this point.

    I think Werner feels a lot of guilt over Frederick. That he didn’t step up and help him. At the same time had he done so he would have ended up being beaten as well. I think the guilt of this will follow him throughout.

    I think Marie-Laure will definetly join the resistance. I can’t see her being the type of person to do nothing. I think the losses she’s endured only make her stronger.

    It’s going to be very interesting to see how this story will wrap up. I believe it’s all interconnected somehow – like with Marie-Laure and Werner. I’ll probably finish up with the audio today. I only have two and a half hours to go. I’m glad I came back to this novel and stuck with it this time. It’s well worth reading and a great book to talk about.

  6. It really has been a great discussion. There are just so many layers to this book.

    I can’t imagine how scared Marie-Laure must be. I am terrified for her right now. I also agree with what you say about Werner and the guilt he carries. It’s hard to see him not act, but there really isn’t much he can do. Although one could argue that standing up for what is right even if you are powerless is the right thing to do. There are so many complexities to that aspect of the story.

  7. I agree; I wonder what took me so long to read this one! What was I thinking. How’s the narration for the audio?

  8. The narration is really good. The fellow narrating has the perfect voice to match the tone of this novel.

  9. It is hard not to see Werner act. I just mentioned that in some ways I understand. It’s a war and he’s only trying tl survive himself. At the same time though he’s giving up pieces of himself each time he doesn’t speak up.

  10. […] participate in a more in-depth discussion of the book, but beware of spoilers: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, and Week […]

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