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April 1, 2015 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Janice Loschiavo, Meta Pitrelli, Cathy Quinn, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali.

Absent: Vivian Krone, Donna Sabetta, Marilyn Sinisi, Jeri Stangl, Joan Swensen.

Book & Author: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

It was our first meeting in what seemed like a long time that we arrived in daylight! Liz provided a hearty assortment of quiche, salad, breads, and snacks and managed to keep Steve out of earshot for the duration of the meeting.

Meta opened the meeting by saying she thoroughly enjoyed the book, and all agreed. What follows are just some of the points that we touched on.

Questions and Comments regarding All the Light We Cannot See:

  • The book would be a great teaching tool, with so much information about concrete subjects, and so many questions about human nature.
  • Of interest were the dynamics of the different friendships in the book: between Werner and Frederick and between Madame and her lady friends of Saint-Malo, among others.
  • What is the import of the title?
  • Werner thought school was wonderful at first, as a way out of a life in the mines, and also out of the orphanage. It also allowed him to explore his passion and genius for radios. He gradually comes to see how trapped he is and at the mercy of the Nazi machine. He loses his innocence and is forever haunted by the image of the Austrian girl with a bullet hole in her forehead.
  • Marie’s uncle Etienne, who had been a recluse, sees the light and forces himself to go outside to look for her.
  • How would Marie Laure have been different if she weren’t blind? Is her blindness an advantage?
  • Almost all of the characters in the book were courageous. Madame and the other townswomen who helped the Resistance were brave; Marie Laure and her uncle also helped the Resistance; Werner was brave in not reporting the whereabouts of the radio emissions; Frederick was brave in not joining in the savagery of the other young Nazis.
  • The relationship between Marie and her father was moving and heartbreaking. His letters to her, his birthday gifts, his models of Paris and Saint-Malo, his making her into a brave, capable, independent young woman – all of these elements created a rich portrait of a loving father.
  • Is hope the central theme of the book? Madame said, “Never give up.” If the townspeople had no hope, they wouldn’t have helped in the Resistance. Marie continued to hope that her father would return. As in Unbroken, hope provides the strength to carry on despite unbearable loss and suffering.
  • Snails and whelks were important symbols in the novel. Whelk was the pseudonym that Marie chose for herself; Madame chose blade. Barbara chose rose; Tina chose cantaloupe!
  • Good vs. evil was an ongoing theme in the book (as in many great works of literature!). Goodness endured (the kindness shown to Marie Laure; Madame’s bringing food to the less fortunate of Saint-Malo). But evil endured as well (the perfume man who informs on Marie’s father; Von Rumple).
  • There was sadness and consternation that Werner died by stepping on the mine. We wanted him to survive! He may have had malaria.
  • Why was Werner so taken with Marie Laure? What did he see in her that made him respond so strongly?
  • There was confusion in the group as to how the book actually ended vis a vis the stone in the house and the key. Some were not happy that the ending is somewhat ambiguous. They wanted to book to be more conclusively ended. One of the discussion questions on our list was, “When Werner and Marie Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?”
  • A favorite quote from the book: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” A favorite image: the frog in the pot.
  • We watched a piece of a Youtube video of Anthony Doerr discussing the book. It might be worthwhile to watch it in its entirety.

After some discussion, the book was awarded a 3.5 rating. The issue of how to rate the books is not yet resolved. Some feel that there has been a bit of “grade inflation” in awarding our ratings. As in the past, we tabled this question for further discussion.

Based on Marilyn’s discussion at last month’s meeting, Tina has begun adding blurbs about the books to our list. A page with the first 24 selections was distributed and all agreed that the type was too small. Once it is completed, Tina will increase the font size and bring a copy for everyone.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, May 6, 5:00 p.m., at Lois’s house. The book chosen by Vivian (in absentia) is Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2009. A review from The New York Times follows.

May 6 at Lois’s house.

June 3 – probably back at Joan’s house.

Submitted by Tina Segali

April 3, 2015

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