6 Degrees of Separation: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

Hi folks! I’ve been conspicuous with my absence lately; sorry about that. And sorry for being late with my monthly post but anyway, better late than never, or so they say… welcome back to Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly meme in which I invite you to link six books in a chain, according to whatever connections spring to mind. The rules are: there are no rules! This month’s chain begins with Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of my favourite books of the year so far.

Set during WWII, All the Light We Cannot See tells the stories of a young, blind French girl and a prodigiously talented German orphan boy who are affected by the war in very different ways. The prose is achingly beautiful and it is an incredibly compassionate story about human relationships and ‘choices’. However, I confess I was not initially attracted to it because I thought…oh, really? Not ANOTHER war story; haven’t we pretty much heard them all by now?

Another book I had that thought about (and was also completely wrong about) was Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper. Weirdly, this book was pretty much ignored in Australia (probably because it’s not set in Australia) but I think it’s something of a masterpiece. Perlman draws together a story from WWII with a story from the American Civil Rights movement to create a deeply moving and thought-provoking novel.

A story of black oppression which goes back much further is Toni Morrison‘s incendiary novel Beloved, a book which will tear your heart right out of your body. A slavery tale, it made me think of Twelve Years a Slave, which I haven’t read, but I have seen the movie, in which Michael Fassbender plays a heinously cruel slave owner in the American south.

Another book adapted to a movie starring Michael Fassbender is Charlotte Bronte‘s classic Jane Eyre, in which he plays the mysterious and rather grumpy, yet strangely alluring, Rochester. Somebody get the smelling salts, I think I might faint.

There is a pivotal scene in Jane Eyre involving a fire, though I won’t say anymore about that, because *spoilers*. Don DeLillo’s White Noise also contains a great fire scene — less dramatic, and certainly far less central to the plot — but a charmingly contemporary scene in which a man and his teenage son go to goggle, alongside other neighbours, at the spectacle of a local building which has caught on fire.

White Noise is the first literary novel I encountered in which ‘low-brow’ culture was interrogated as serious subject matter. A more recent novel which also draws heavily on ‘low-brow’ culture is Michael Chabon’s hilarious Telegraph Avenue.

I recently had the great good fortune of hearing Michael Chabon speak about his work at the amazing Ubud Writers Festival. Another writer whose session I very much enjoyed at the festival was Chinese author Xinran, speaking about her non-fiction book Buy Me the Sky, about China’s first generation of children from the one-child policy era becoming adults, which sounds utterly fascinating.

All the Light Collage

So from Europe in the 1940s to modern day China: this has been six degrees of separation. Tune in on the first Saturday of next month where Emma Chapman will be hosting the chain, beginning with David Nicholls’ Us. In the meantime, you can share your chain in the comments. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on my links too.

#6degrees rules

8 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

  1. I can always count on needing to add books to my to-read pile when I come to your blog, Annabel. I now really want to read both All the Light I Cannot See and The Street Sweeper. I’ve also been AWOL from my blog, but will get on to my Six Degrees of Separation now, and post the link when I’m done.

  2. I just loved All the Light We Cannot See – so beautifully written and so carefully thought out on every level – really wonderful. Both Beloved and Telegraph Avenue have been sitting in my TBR stack for ages but the one I’m keen to read is Buy Me the Sky. I read Xinran’s Message From a Chinese Mother a few years ago and I still think about it – heartbreaking.

    Here’s my chain: https://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/six-degrees-of-separation-from-all-the-light-we-cannot-see-to-canada/

  3. I have just discovered your blog, which is great by the way, and your 6 degrees of separation. I put a similar post on my blog last week but to do with bands rather than books. I thought I was being terribly clever and original but you got there a long time before me! Great post and some really good reads too.

    1. There’s nothing original left in the world so don’t worry! I got the idea from a friend of mine who did it on a radio program about songs. I think it can be applied to anything at all. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

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