From My Bookshelf: Featuring Anthony Doerr and Lisa Genova


By Lynn Willoughby

All the Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr

This novel won multiple awards, including the Reader’s Choice award, but as you know, this does not always make it a great read for me. In this book, the prose is wonderful, the descriptions stunning and the physical detail is meticulous, but I found the plot weak.

Marie-Laurie lives with her father in Paris. When she is six she goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorize it and always navigate her way home. But six years later, the Nazi’s occupy Paris and Marie-Laurie and her father flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo, near the sea. Her great uncle Etienne lives here, but he is strange and reclusive. He has not been out of his house for two decades, and we never know why!

Meanwhile, in a German mining town, an orphan boy, Werner, and his sister Jutta, are living in an orphanage and are cared for by Frau Elena – a Protestant Nun. The children’s house “…are populated by the coughs of sick children and the crying of newborns…” Seven year old Werner knows that on his fifteenth birthday he will be sent to work in the mines that killed his father.

While climbing a glistening pile of black dust, Werner and Jutta discover a crude radio. Werner is enchanted and as they scour the mountains of rusting machines for the necessary parts to make it work, Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing new instruments – a talent that will lead him to the Hitler Youth, on assignment to track the resistance.

The story wanders back and forth in time, in location, between Werner’s story and the life of Marie-Laurie. We know their paths will cross eventually. We don’t know how Werner even knows how a radio is supposed to work!
Werner meets and befriends Frederick at the Nazi school. They are two outcasts. Werner is small and quiet, Frederick is from a wealthy family, nearly blind and interested only in birds. His innocence and the tragedy that followed were handed away by the German people who lost any sense of what was right. Theirs is a deep friendship and the quote “…the first country Hitler invaded was Germany.” gives us insight into the general sweep of humanity picked up and brainwashed by the Hitler Youth Movement. Much later in Werner’s life, the giant man Volkheimer protected him and befriended him on the Eastern front of Russia. Both of Werner’s friends illustrate the point that war leaves no one undamaged.

There were so many questions left unanswered in this novel, even though it skips to 1974 at the end. We find out about the survivors, but we never know about the others, about the key, the diamond, Von Rumpel’s cancer treatments, references to Audubon and Darwin, the white hair, how transmissions were possible with no apparent power source, or even what the title means.

I was frustrated by this non-existant wrap up. I finally concluded that this is actually a novel for young readers.

  • The Shell Collector
  • The Memory Wall

Inside the O’Briens ~ Lisa Genova

This title has a double meaning that is not apparent until you are well into the book. Genova, the author of the best seller “Still Alice” tackles another debilitating disease head on in the novel. This is a family struggling with Huntington’s Disease.

While Genova writes a good story, she also gives us a lot of information about HD. Even more revealing is the story of Joe O’Brien’s childhood and how this forty something Irish Catholic living in Charleston his entire life, still cannot forget his mother’s drinking and life in a mental institute.

Joe is a Boston Police Officer and is the defining force in the lives of his four adult children. They live in an extremely tight community where families have lived for generations, intermarried, are lifelong friends from childhood. The stigma and shame of Joe’s mother “drinking herself to death” leaves him unable to recognize his own symptoms of disorganized thinking, outbursts of temper and rage and strange, involuntary movements.
Huntington’s Disease is a “lethal neuro degenerative disease with no known cure.” Each of Joe’s four children has a fifty percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease.

This is Genova’s real story. How a simple blood test can reveal a person’s genetic fate. Which of the next generation decide to have the test? The impact on everyday life – if you drop a pen or stumble on a curb, it sends panic through the mind. Am I positive??? Add to that a marriage, two pregnancies, a black, Baptist boyfriend who is moving across country for work and we have a novel “…as unforgettable as the human insights at its core.”

Genova has a gift of taking a family – yours or mine, and giving them a set of extraordinary circumstances and pulling out of them a very readable novel with real people and real responses, real love, real family fights. I loved the ending of this book!

  • Still Alice
  • Love Anthony
  • Left Neglected

Who Knew?

Katie’s walls are covered with quotes that can apply to so many situations. Here are a couple of my favourites.

You are either NOW HERE or NOWHERE

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

~ Emily Dickinson