An April 4 stop in Santa Clara was part of New York Times bestselling author Anthony Doerr’s U.S. paperback tour, as his widely acclaimed novel, “All The Light We Cannot See” is now out in paperback. Margie Scott Tucker, co-owner of Books Inc., introduced Doerr to his many fans who came to the Santa Clara Convention Center to hear him speak.
“Exactly 69 years and 11 months after the Normandy landings, this book landed in the stores,” Tucker said. “What followed was 136 weeks on the bestseller list, the Pulitzer Prize, the Andrew Carnegie Award in fiction…and the number one Christmas gift in our stores for the next three years…In the book, there’s Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who survives by her other senses; Werner, a young German boy with a passion and natural skill; a villainous Nazi gemologist stopping at nothing to find the Sea of Flames; and in the center of everything were the invisible radio waves that illuminated their paths to each other and the war that raged around them.”
At the beginning of his presentation, Doerr showed a few slides featuring close up images of items that might be unrecognizable at a quick glance–for example, salt and pepper, which could be easily mistaken for marshmallows and pieces of chocolate.
“We forget our systems of perception are just one way of experiencing the world,” Doerr said. “I recorded in notebooks things that amazed and interested me and allowed me to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways…I learned to transfer my amazement into the hearts of fictional characters.”
To write “All the Light We Cannot See,” Doerr had to conduct research about World War I, World War II, French history, old radio receivers and Hitler youth, among other subjects. During this time, Doerr reflected on a moral question: “I kept asking myself what would be the central question in the novel: Is it right to do something just because everyone else is doing it?”
Doerr responded to audience questions about what he edited from earlier drafts of his book (“I think artistic maturity is learning to get rid of things you spent a lot of time on,”) how he developed Marie’s character (“Her most salient trait is not her blindness but her intellectual curiosity,”) and what it took to write this book (“I wrote two books as procrastination while writing this book.”)
“Every sentence in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ was perfectly crafted,” said Barb Dehn, an author of non-fiction books who attended the talk. “I was captivated from the first paragraph. I couldn’t put the book down. The characters were so different and yet they were all so compelling and you felt you could embody each one. For example, you could imagine what it’d be like to be a German boy like Werner and his sister Jutta but you could also imagine yourself as a blind girl like Marie.”