Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Reports: All the Light We Cannot See and Code Name Verity

What can I even say about either one of these books that hasn't already been said, and said a thousand times better than I ever could? They're both five star winners, both Drop Everything And Read, both deal breakers in that if you didn't like them, we can't really be friends.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anothony Doerr just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which doesn't mean anything to me because I read it before it won and it's probably the ONLY book that's ever won that I've actually read... but anyway.  Here's what I said as soon as I finished it, and it all still holds true: Five stars. Absolutely one of the very best books I've ever read. I can definitely see why it made all the Best Of lists for 2014, and it totally lived up to the hype. That being said, it's a WWII book. It's brutal and heartbreaking and soul crushing. And filled with hope and poignant and breathtakingly beautiful. Go read it. Now.

Then we've got Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I tried to review it, I came up with this bit of literary brilliance: Too raw to write a review. Brutal and heart wrenching in the most beautiful way. This book will stay with me forever.

Very helpful, Past Jenn. I'll be honest, I wasn't overly excited about Verity bc it was in the 'teenager' section of the library, but I shoulda known better.  My friend Robin recommended I read it, and the girl has seriously NEVER steered me wrong.  Hello, she's the one who told me to pick up Game of Thrones.

So they're both AMAZING, and they're both MUST READS and they're both about WWII...but they're two VERY different books.

From the back of the book: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

For me, the horror of this book (and really, the entire War) is how easy it must have been to convince people to commit unspeakable atrocities.  I mean, Werner is just a regular kid.  Smarter than most, but still just a kid, an orphan.  He's easy to snare: if he doesn't join the Nazis, he's gonna starve.  And so is his sister.

Once he gets to school, it's sort of life or death: if he doesn't join in with the crowd, they'll beat him until he's a vegetable.  And then, presumably, his sister will starve.

This book is more about the individual characters, though, than the actual horrors of the War.  For me, the most horrifying part was near the end (sorta spoilerish) when the Russians showed up and the sister was with the lady who ran the orphanage and she tells the girls how to prepare to be brutally raped.

I feel like I'm not doing a good job of convincing anyone to read this book, but I don't know what else to say.  It's gorgeous.  It's uplifting as much as it's brutal and (I hate to keep using this word, but I can't think of anything else for it) HORRIFYING.

From the back of the book: Oct. 11th, 1943- A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

Let me start by saying that that's NOT what the book is about.  Well it is, and it isn't.  Basically, it's about the horrors of war. At first, I didn't really LOVE the way it was being told- you're reading the confession she's writing for the Nazis. But after the first few bumps (for me, as a reader, maybe not for you?) I literally couldn't put it down.  LITERALLY.

I read the ending chapters in the park and I was straight up sobbing.  SOBBING.

But it's not just a make you cry mess, it's also a make you think masterpiece.  For example, take a look at this tiny (spoiler free!!) passage:

Let me spell it out in case you're not getting the gravity of the situation: Being a kid and worrying that a bomb (in the Blitz) might kill you is terrible. But being a kid (in France) and worrying that the police might cut your head off is something else entirely.  I haven't words for it. Every fresh broken horror here is something I just DIDN'T UNDERSTAND until I came here.

Let that sink it.  It was awful in England because of the Blitz, it was horrifying.  But that's sort of all I ever knew about.  And apparently, all she ever really thought about.

But in France, school girls were worried that their friends might be found out as spies, carted across the street to the hotel that's now a Nazi jail, tied to a guillotine, and have their heads cut off.

That's what war was.  Is.  That's what war is.

And while this book might have been slightly easier to read, slightly more 'shallow' that All the Light...for me, it was almost better.  It made me think more.  And while I'll most likely  not pick up All the Light again (is that awful?) I can see reading Code Name Verity over and over again as the years go by.

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