Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical fiction novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” is the latest Netflix original to add to your queue. This novel tells the story of WWII from the perspective of Marie Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, who experience the war in two vastly different ways, and the priceless Sea of Flames, which is being sought after by Nazi officials. If you can’t wait to find out what happens in the book and how that may translate to its onscreen adaptation, keep reading.
But proceed with caution: there are spoilers ahead.
Who Is Marie-Laure LeBlanc?
Marie-Laure is a blind Parisian girl who lives with her widowed father, Daniel, who is the locksmith at the Natural History Museum of Paris. Daniel fosters a sense of independence in Marie-Laure throughout her childhood by hand-crafting models of their neighborhood so she can navigate confidently on her own.
Marie-Laure is 12 years old when the war causes her and her father to flee Paris. They move to Saint-Malo, France, to live with her eccentric Great-Uncle Etienne and his housekeeper, Madame Manec. Shortly after they relocate, Daniel leaves and is eventually captured by the Nazis. Marie-Laure is left under the care of her great-uncle and Madame Manec to endure the hardships of war and wonder about her father’s safety.
Throughout the story, Marie-Laure uses her resourceful nature and adventurous spirit to engage in acts of rebellion against the Germans, including illegal radio broadcasting in Etienne’s attic. The story follows her as she matures into her early teens and navigates the German occupation of France and the turmoil of war.
Who Is Werner Pfennig?
Werner grows up in an orphanage in Germany with his younger sister, Jutta. He is a smart boy who dreams of becoming a scientist but is terrified that he’ll end up working in the coal mines where his father died.
After coming across a broken radio and fixing it on his own, he is invited to join the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta — a Nazi school. Werner accepts the invitation, even though Jutta disagrees and resents his decision.
While enrolled at Schulpforta, Werner endures endless trauma and abuse, but his radio skills do not go unnoticed. He works throughout the war to locate illegal radios, and although his efforts are praised, he is haunted by the horrors he’s helped orchestrate.
Do Marie-Laure and Werner Ever Meet?
The story leads up to the meeting of Marie-Laure and Werner with small connections that unknowingly link the two from afar.
After Werner first discovers the wonder of the radio, he begins listening incessantly to a recording of a science broadcast that turns out to be hosted by Marie-Laure’s late grandfather. While living in San-Malo, Marie-Laure begins to experiment with her great-uncle’s radio by broadcasting herself reading her favorite book.
Werner, being the radio expert he is, discovers her broadcast and falls in love with her by only the sound of her voice. During the bombing of the seaside town, Werner locates Marie-Laure and helps her release the Sea of Flames into the ocean and escape to safety.
What Is the Sea of Flames?
The Sea of Flames is a large, teardrop-shaped diamond with a flash of red at its center and a powerful story to go alongside it.
The stone’s lore is first introduced before Marie-Laure evacuates Paris. According to the legend, the long-ago Prince of Borneo was viciously attacked by robbers who seized all his treasures, except for the Sea of Flames, which he had clutched in his palm during the attack. The diamond miraculously healed the prince’s wounds but eventually caused all his loved ones to die.
The cursed Sea of Flames is housed in the Natural History Museum of Paris until Marie-Laure’s father is entrusted to hide it from the German occupation. Once in San-Malo, Daniel builds a wooden model of San-Malo for Marie-Laure to familiarize herself with the area and hides the diamond within the replica of Etienne’s house. The Sea of Flames becomes a focus area for Reinhold von Rumpel, a gemologist turned Nazi party official who is stationed in San-Malo.
What Happens to Marie-Laure and Werner?
Werner’s decision to save Marie-Laure allows her to escape and return to Paris with her Great-Uncle Etienne, but Werner is not so lucky. After Marie-Laure’s escape, Werner is captured by the Allies, and his death occurs while he is walking through a minefield and is killed by an explosion.
Years later, Jutta receives the model house that once contained the Sea of Flames (which Werner kept after rescuing Marie-Laure) and journeys to Paris to return the small house. The book ends with Marie-Laure as an old woman living happily in Paris once again, although forever changed by the war.