Week 4: Discussion of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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

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

Do you feel more hopeful about Marie-Laure or Werner making it out of the bombed ruins alive after reading part six?

SERENA: I’m not all that confident that Werner will make it out.  I still feel like he is trapped and will probably die there.  There is a little more hope for Marie-Laure as she seems to have found herself a place to hide, but we know von Rumpel is patient.  Patience can be a scary thing.

ANNA: I’m trying to be hopeful that Marie-Laure will eventually be able to leave her hiding place and escape and that Werner can get the radio working and get some help. But like you, I am not that confident.

I’m especially curious about Marie-Laure and von Rumpel’s first meeting; it seemed that she knew who it was in the house by his walk.

Why do you think the death of Madame Manec spurred Etienne into action?

ANNA: Madame Manec is one of the few people Etienne was close to, and he was broken up over her death. Her reasoning for joining the resistance seems to have resonated with Etienne, and I think the more he thought on it, it prompted him to act. He also has plenty of other reasons to resist: his scars from the first war against the Germans, his hidden transmitter in the attic making it easier for him to take on the job, his desire to reach others through the radio waves.

SERENA: I found Madame Manec’s death to be a catalyst because he had been in his own world up until that point.  She was a buffer between him and the rest of the world.  He really didn’t need to fight the Germans because not only had he done that before and come out scarred, but also because she was already doing something and he didn’t need to disrupt his world.

Once she’s gone, the buffer disappears and he’s left with Marie-Laure, a niece whom he has sworn to protect.  But even as he has promised to protect her, he knows that she was already involved in the resistance efforts and he feels the best way to protect her is to become involved as well.

I found it interesting that he was no longer having his headaches and shutting himself away to rid himself of ghosts.

ANNA: I think he’s finally faced his ghosts head on. He sees the ghost of Madame Manec and doesn’t have to shut himself away.  And it’s almost like Marie-Laure and Werner are haunted now by the memories of their youth, Marie-Laure by her father and Werner by Jutta and Frau Elena.

SERENA: Werner and Marie-Laure do seem haunted by the past, those they have lost.  I’m wondering what has happened to Marie’s father and Werner’s sister.  I want to know that they are safe, but I fear, at least for her father, they are not.

Etienne’s vision of Madame Manec seems like a foreshadowing of how his actions are providing a kindness to the city he has shunned for his darkened rooms.  He’s become their protector now, and I wonder what she’s trying to tell him, or really what he’s trying to tell himself when he sees her with those birds?

ANNA: It said it’s something like three years since the last time Marie-Laure has seen her father, and it seems like the letters dried up. He may not have had a way to send them, but I fear it’s worse that that. I, too, am curious about Jutta and the other children under Frau Elena’s care.

I am not sure what Madame Manec is saying, what symbolism is behind the sparrows. Maybe the tucking of the birds into her coat represents that all of the people he has lost are fine and protected wherever they are? Or that whatever happens to him now that his transmissions are flying out into the world that he will be okay in the end? I don’t know; I’m probably overthinking that.

SERENA: I think you’re right about Madame Manec, perhaps she is telling him that he’s doing the right thing and that everything will be ok.

What do you think is the significance of him playing music after transmitting the messages? Do you think that will be his downfall?

SERENA: The music….I think serves as part of Etienne’s resistance.  I think he wants to connect with the others, even though he doesn’t know who they are.  He wants them to feel the threads connecting them in this battle against the oppressors, but he also wants to demonstrate how he is no longer hiding and cowering in his room.  He’s awake, he’s active, and he’s fighting.  It also seems to be a symbol of hope and the light of the past — it enables him to transcend his troubles past and present.

ANNA: I agree with you about the music, and I think it’ll have a lot to do with his arrest. That’s probably where the connection to Werner comes in as well.

What did you think of Werner’s first encounter with Volkheimer? How do you think the murder of the little girl will affect Werner going forward?

ANNA: When Werner is reunited with Volkheimer it seems like he will be ok, that he has someone to watch over him, and Volkheimer does. But it also forces Werner to face the brutality of the war head on, as Volkheimer takes boots from prisoners and assassinates the partisans without a second thought, leaving Werner to witness the aftermath as he salvages the radio equipment.

SERENA: I found their reunion to be right in line with how they were together at the school; the big hulking Volkheimer watching over him and Werner not really seeking answers or questioning his methods.  Who knows how he protected Werner from the same fate as Frederick at the school.  I loved the scene in which Volkheimer displays a bit of tenderness toward Werner, offering him an additional blanket against the cold.

Their lack of communication with one another makes them endearing but Werner must know that they are not the same.  Werner is very scientific and he tries not to move into situations thinking about the consequences, whereas Volkheimer seems to know that there are certain realities of war that cannot be avoided.  When faced with the death of the young girl, Werner is forced to see the consequences of his clinical actions.  Again he will be forced to reassess.

ANNA: I think Werner’s work had been methodical up until that point, finding the partisans, gathering up the equipment, and moving. He was disturbed by the bodies but able to overlook them. In fact, he hadn’t ever seen them until Volkheimer had already killed them. But with the little girl, he witnessed her in life, her innocence, and it could have been his sister. Then he realizes he made a mistake about the transmission, and this time the consequences are more readily apparent. I wonder if this will make him retreat more into his memories of his sister and the children’s home.

What about that scene with von Rumpel in Marie-Laure and her father’s apartment? He was a bit obsessed and nutty.  Do you think his disease is getting the better of him or is it the obsession with the stone?

ANNA: I think von Rumpel’s obsession with the stone has only grown stronger given his illness and poor prognosis. I think his never-ending quest for the stone at this point is about his desire to survive, and the smashing of the model in their old apartment could be a foreshadowing of what is to come with he and Marie-Laure finally come face-to-face.

SERENA: I agree, that smashing of the house is definitely a foreshadowing of things to come.  I also think von Rumpel’s desperation to survive has fed his obsession with the stone.

Part Seven ends with the telegram about terrorist broadcasts in Saint-Malo. How do you think this will play out?

SERENA: That telegram is what I think brings Werner to Saint-Malo and how these stories converge.  I wonder how he and Marie-Laure will meet and whether he will see her as someone akin to his sister, Jutta.  Will Werner become an ally or will he follow his indoctrination where she’s concerned?  I have hope that he will use his past experiences, particularly that little girl’s death, to guide his future actions where Marie is concerned.

What are you looking forward to in the next sections?

ANNA: I wonder if Marie-Laure and Werner will actually meet, or will Werner merely result in the arrest of Etienne. I’d assume they would cross paths at some point though. Mainly I am just anticipating their paths crossing and the story falling into place. I really want to know whether they survive in the end, but I also am scared for that part to come.

SERENA: I hope they cross paths, but I’m not sure they will.  I think perhaps that Werner will play a roll in Etienne’s arrest.  I do want to see how this concludes and what happens, but I hope there is some closure on Jutta at least.  I think that Marie-Laure’s father’s fate is likely death in a camp, but maybe I’m too pessimistic.

I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this book.  I’m so glad that we picked it for a read-a-long.

ANNA: I agree about Marie-Laure’s father, and I’m glad we picked it, 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 31 for our discussion of Sections Eight and Nine.  Happy reading!


1 Comment

  1. […] 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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