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All The Light We Cannot See – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See – A Novel

all-light-cannot-see-anthony-doerr

Author: Anthony Doerr

Other works:  The Shell Collector,  About GraceMemory WallFour Seasons in Rome

Recommended by: This was a book club pick, but it was also one that my book-savvy husband had heard great things about. Also, the fact that it won a Pulitzer recommends it rather well.

Genre: Historical fiction, World War II drama

Main characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a German boy.

Opinions: Our book club was divided. One member came to the meeting calling it “brutal” because she’d just finished it and spent a good chunk of the end of it crying. Some thought it was hard to get into, but good after a while. Some thought the language was too flowery, and some don’t really get into historical fiction much.

I think I was the only person there who love love loved it. The writing didn’t feel flowery to me, just gorgeous. The author skilfully made every character real and human – even the heinous ones. The two main characters are particularly beautiful, and the way their lives gradually converge had me totally hooked.  I read considerably past my bedtime on many occasions.

A quotation I liked: My very favourite moments, the ones I had to go back and re-read, would be too long, and are spoilers anyway. But there were so many lines full of wisdom or insight that I found exquisite. For example,

“There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”

What sticks with me: Fascinating portrayal of a blind person’s perspective – the sounds, smells, and strategies. But even more, the depth of feeling, rendered with zero melodrama. Lots and lots of writers have placed their stories during WWII, so you’ve gotta be good to make sure your story hasn’t been already told in some form, and that it’s worth telling. This one made me feel the same way Atonement did: very sad, but uplifted by so many forms of love. Moved by humanity’s capacity for beauty, even during the ugliest times in our history.

Recommended to: War buffs, gemstone buffs, Jules Verne buffs, marine biology buffs, and those who don’t mind a heartrending story in the service of love.

To sum up: I will definitely be re-reading All The Light We Cannot See when I have the chance.

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 2: Drama

Today on 5-Day Artist Challenge, I bring you DRAMA.

If art is bread for the soul, I’m gonna say that drama is… French toast. You take some words/bread that someone else made a while ago, and make it your own. You give it new life with your own egg/milk mixture of interpretation. It might, in the end, look completely different from how it looked before you renewed it, but in essence, it is the same.

Dramatic French toast.
Dramatic French Toast via generationyfoodie.com.

(Yes. Not all forms of drama fit this French-toast paradigm. I know I’m stretching it. It’s late.)

I love drama in many ways. Not in my life, particularly, but to witness, as a discipline. I have a lot of respect for good acting, both cinematic and theatrical. And I am thrilled by high-quality improvisation.

I’m not particularly talented at it, myself. (My sister Emily and my mom are both really good actors, so I know what that looks like.) Of course, I was in many a Christmas play as a child in Quaker Meeting. I once starred as the Robin in a play I believe was called “Robin Saves Christmas.” All I recall was that I played the piano at the end of the presentation (to represent church bells) and then accidentally put my wings on upside-down to deliver my last line.

At age thirteen or fourteen, I also played half of Della in The Gift of the Magi – that is, Della before her hair is cut short.

5 day artist challenge drama gift of the magi
I’m on the left, all verklempt because I have no money for my beloved’s Christmas present.

The kids in our family all participated in the Kiwanis Festival, and I did many poetry recitations and Shakespearean scenes. I can remember being told on more than one occasion that my voice was too soft, I needed to project more.

Also as a young teen, I came to understand the power of a dramatic performance to move an audience to tears and/or goosebumps when the drama club at Intermediate Camp put on a self-created series of sketches about gender stereotypes. I fervently wished I’d been part of it – I’d always been in the drama club before, when all we did was play games, but this… It was drama to make an impression, make a difference.

I was briefly part of the drama club in high school, but I was not in any of the musicals. I was kinda sad about that, but I was also already an overcommitted teenager (by choice).

In my second year of university, I went on a 5-week immersion bursary trip to Québec, and became part of the improv team. It was super-fun and scary. I have a distinctly proud memory of being part of a sketch that cracked up the crowd. (I was crouched down, holding my nose for a nasal vocal quality, for my role as the tape-player in beginner French class.)

In my third year of university, I played “Charlotte” in Du poil aux pattes comme les CWACs for a Québecois lit course. I think I was pretty bad. I know I could never manage to convince even myself that my crying was real when I got the news that my boyfriend had been Killed in Action. But I did drop to my knees with such commitment that one of them bled, so that must count for something.

Nowadays, my dramatic skills are mostly used for dancing (MOTL), teaching the AIM program in Core French, and reading stories to my kids. As a narrator, I’m no Morgan Freeman, but I can say that the more I like the story, the better my acting. And as a teacher – you can bet I’ve learned to project.

My kids, on the other hand, are great at bringing lots of drama into our everyday lives. I never have to worry that life will be too humdrum.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 19: Questions excellentes

Today at school, we talked a little bit about Paris. I showed my Grade 4s and 5s that little boy and his dad – not just because the vocabulary (très, méchant, gentil, fleurs, maison, etc.) is right on point, but because when they see a child, they instinctively relate.

Two days a week, I have a group of only nine Grade 4s for the last period of the day. Often, it’s my favourite group. Grade 4s in Core French class are well-known to be the most excited about it (the novelty is alive), and although this group has a couple of very busy boys, they are also usually sweet and enthusiastic.

When I occasionally put aside the speaking of French in class, it’s usually in order to hear what they have to say about the social issue at hand; usually these moments arise from the French songs we listen to, but today it was the news. Frankly, I was very impressed by their questions and insights, and how most of them really listened and responded to each other. For a lot of it, I was simply listening.

Where did the terrorists come from? What made them so angry? If the parents teach their kids to be angry and to want to kill people, where did they get it? What is the violence for? Is it for fun? Or does someone make them do it?

We talked about racism and prejudices and wrongdoing on different sides, and the cyclical nature of violence. It may sound heavy for Grade 4, but they knew all the worst parts already, and obviously wanted to talk about it.

One of my favourite parts was one little guy, the most overt keener in the group, not quite nine years old yet, who is never afraid to call the other kids on it when they’re being immature. When a couple of kids began to get silly, he said to them, “You’re making a joke out of something that’s really serious. How would you like it if a terrorist came to your home and killed you? That’s what happens to people.” He is such a sharp little guy, with astonishing perspective on things. Makes me wish I could know and teach him when he’s seventeen or twenty-one and really taking on the world.

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