All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

all the light we cannot see

What to expect when you read a historical novel set in wartime? A display of brutality, a spectacle of bravery or cowardice or both, an atmosphere terrorized by bombs and soldiers, and, inevitably, tragic deaths, traumatized survivors. It would be stupid to expect a happy ending from a historical novel set in wartime.

But All the Light We Cannot See is unlike any war-themed historical novels I have read. Some books focus on the relationships (which usually make the tragedy even more depressing), some others on the desperate efforts the characters were making in attempt to get out of a situation, and some books reveal the reality of man when faced with fire; the worst and the best. This book combines all that, and more.

The story revolves around two major characters. First is a sightless French girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc, daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father made her a model of their neighborhood in Paris and later the city of Saint-Malo, and got her Jules Verne books in Braille for her birthday. When German airplanes began to bomb Paris, she and her father fled to Saint-Malo, a walled city in northern coast of France to stay with her great-uncle, Etienne LeBlanc. It was unknown to Marie that they carried a dangerous treasure with them; an exotic blue diamond worth millions of francs known as the Sea of Flames.

The second major character is Werner Pfennig, a white-haired German boy who grew up in an orphanage with her sister. He liked to fix radios while her sister Jutta was busy making sketches. His intelligence and talent earned him a place in Schulpforta, a special school where the best German boys were trained for the war. Despite the brutality he faced everyday at Schulpforta, he had a heartwarming friendship with a boy named Frederick. Later he was sent for missions to several cities and finally, to Saint-Malo where he crossed paths with Marie-Laure, as the vague details of the story was being unwrapped one by one.

I am usually fascinated by war-themed books, and by the time I saw the cover of this book I was instantly attracted. On the cover it shows a photograph of a walled city by the sea and big skies. It is blue, my favorite color. And the fact that it won Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 made me set my heart to read it. But what makes this book different? It was very detailed and rather slow-paced that it took me 25 days to finish it. I have never read anything by Anthony Doerr before, but after reading this book I would like to think that he is a scientist with the soul of a storyteller, or maybe the other way around. He poured little details about locks, mollusks, diamonds, radios, birds, light, and science into the story and brought all of them together with a style of writing I find rather romantic.

The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

War-themed books usually left me emotionally wrecked, but it’s not the same case with this book. It didn’t make me cry, but I am deeply moved by how the characters showed kindness toward each other, even in unlikely times and situations. I found more spark in the minor characters like Frederick and Madame Manec than in characters with bigger roles, but I love Werner Pfennig with all my heart, and wished that somehow, he could be spared of premature death. I am a little irritated when the characters “sees” or “hears”, as if they were relentlessly reminded of the past, whether it was in their near or distant past. Maybe if this happened only to several characters and not almost all of them, I would not be as annoyed. However, I love the way the author wove together the little stories of each characters into one epic and exquisitely written tale of courage and humanity. Five stars for this book.

“You must never stop believing. That’s the most important thing.” – Madame Manec


Book details:

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
531 pages, published May 2015 by Simon and Schuster
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky

suite francaiseDisebut-sebut sebagai proyek paling ambisius dari penulis Prancis kelahiran Ukraina Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française berusaha menggambarkan penderitaan masyarakat Prancis—semendetail mungkin –pada sebuah kurun waktu dari Perang Dunia II. Lebih lanjut, Suite Française membawa sederetan karakter yang mewakili masyarakat Prancis dari berbagai kelas sosial.

Badai di Bulan Juni

Bagian pertama novel ini diberi judul “Badai di Bulan Juni”, mengambil waktu mulai dari bulan Juni 1940 saat tentara Jerman memulai pendudukan atas Prancis . Berikut ini adalah karakter-karakter yang ada di dalamnya:

Yang pertama ada keluarga Péricand, keluarga kaya dan terhormat. Philippe, anak lelaki tertua pasangan Péricand adalah seorang pendeta, adiknya Hubert remaja delapan belas tahun yang masih kekanak-kanakan, dan tiga adik mereka, Bernard, Jacqueline, dan Emmanuel masih kecil-kecil. Kakek Péricand , sang ahli waris keluarga Maltête dari Lyon, sudah cacat dan duduk di kursi roda. Dengan kekayaan yang mereka miliki, keluarga Péricand selalu menyisihkan sebagian untuk amal sesuai dengan kewajiban penganut Kristen yang baik, demikian kata Madame Péricand.

Kemudian ada penulis Gabriel Corte, kaya dan terkenal, namun sangat sombong. Corte punya banyak wanita simpanan, namun hanya satu yang “resmi”, yaitu Florence. Mewakili rakyat kelas menengah, ada pasangan Michaud yang sederhana dan hidup dengan harmonis. Maurice sang suami bekerja sebagai karyawan bagian keuangan dan Jeanne sang istri sekretaris di bank yang dipimpin Monsieur Corbin. Pasangan Michaud memiliki seorang putra, Jean-Marie, yang ikut berperang membela Prancis. Dan juga ada Charles Langelet, seorang pria kaya kolektor barang-barang indah, yang dikenal sangat kikir.

Baik keluarga Péricand, Gabriel Corte dan Florence, pasangan Michaud, Monsieur Corbin dan wanita simpanannya, dan juga Charles Langelet mempunyai misi yang sama: pergi sejauh mungkin dari Paris karena kota itu akan diduduki tentara Jerman. Dari sini pembaca diajak menelusuri apa saja yang dialami para tokoh saat mereka pergi meninggalkan Paris. Yang kaya berusaha membawa sebanyak mungkin harta benda dan makanan yang mereka miliki, dan membawa mobil, tentu saja, walaupun persediaan bensin menipis. Sementara itu, pasangan Michaud yang tidak mendapat tumpangan di mobil Monsieur Corbin terpaksa pergi berjalan kaki, menyeret koper-koper berat dalam cuaca bulan Juni yang panas.

Mereka berusaha pergi dari Paris ke tempat tujuan masing-masing, di tengah ancaman bom dan tembakan dari pesawat-pesawat Jerman, belum lagi ancaman perampokan dari sesama warga sipil. Segalanya kacau balau. Dihadapkan dengan situasi yang sulit, barulah terungkap sifat asli masing-masing karakter. Madame Péricand yang selalu mengajari anak-anaknya untuk menolong orang lain, malah marah-marah ketika melihat dua anaknya membagi-bagikan permen dan cokelat dengan orang-orang di sekitar mereka. Maurice dan Jeanne Michaud menanggung beban mereka dengan cukup sabar, namun Jeanne dihantui ketakutan bahwa putra tercintanya tak selamat. Gabriel Corte dengan angkuh menolak kamar hotel yang baginya kurang nyaman, padahal ada sepuluh keluarga pengungsi lainnya yang memohon-mohon supaya diberikan kamar itu. Charles Langelet yang kehabisan bensin di tengah perjalanan tega mencuri mobil sepasang orang muda. Sementara itu Jean-Marie yang terluka, ditemukan dan dirawat oleh keluarga petani yang memiliki dua orang putri, yang pertama putri kandung dan yang satunya lagi putri angkat: Cécile dan Madeleine.

Dolce

Bagian kedua yang berjudul “Dolce” menceritakan bulan-bulan pertama pendudukan Jerman di Prancis. Ada beberapa karakter baru, antara lain:

Keluarga Angellier dari kaum borjuis, yang terdiri dari Madame Angellier dan menantu perempuannya, Lucile. Gaston, anak lelaki Madame Angellier dan suami Lucile, ikut berperang dan sedang ditawan oleh Jerman. Madame Angellier seorang wanita yang otoriter dan dominan, sedangkan Lucile yang cantik penyendiri dan kutu buku. Kedua wanita yang bertolak belakang ini tinggal di sebuah rumah indah di Bussy, desa yang pada saat itu diduduki tentara Jerman. Seperti di banyak rumah lainnya, mereka harus menerima seorang perwira Jerman untuk tinggal dalam rumah mereka.

Perwira Jerman yang tinggal di rumah Angellier bernama Bruno von Falk, pemuda tampan dengan mata besar dan rambut pirang. Walau pada mulanya Lucile bersikap kaku terhadap “musuh dalam selimut” ini, namun keramahan Bruno membuatnya luluh dan akhirnya mereka pun berteman. Hubungan pertemanan ini lambat laun berubah menjadi sesuatu yang lain… apalagi karena Lucile tak benar-benar mencintai suaminya yang serong. Hal ini tak luput dari pengamatan Madame Angellier yang merasa Lucile telah mengkhianati putranya.

Vicomte dan Vicomtesse de Montmort adalah sepasang bangsawan yang hipokrit. Sang Vicomtesse berseru di depan murid-murid sekolah supaya mereka “bermurah hati” dan “tidak memikirkan diri sendiri”, sementara ia sendiri memakai sepatu seharga delapan ratus lima puluh franc. Ada kebencian turun temurun antara keluarga Sabarie dan keluarga Montmort.

Keluarga Sabarie—keluarga petani yang merawat Jean-Marie Michaud—kembali muncul dalam bagian kedua novel ini. Madeleine sudah menikah dengan Benoît, putra keluarga Sabarie, meskipun ia masih mencintai Jean-Marie. Karena pertikaian dengan perwira Jerman yang tinggal di rumah mereka (Benoît cemburu buta melihat perwira itu menggoda istrinya), Benoît melarikan diri dan akhirnya bersembunyi di rumah keluarga Angellier. Madame Angellier yang notabene kelasnya jauh diatas Benoît, menerimanya demi membantu sesama orang Prancis.

Thoughts:

Jika pada Badai di Bulan Juni cerita mengalir lebih cepat dan dengan tone yang gelap, dalam Dolce cerita mengalir dengan lebih lambat dan tidak segelap bagian pertama, karena dalam Dolce pembaca melihat para tentara Jerman membangun hubungan baik dengan warga desa (entah tulus atau tidak), sampai-sampai warga desa menyesali saat kepergian mereka, dengan alasan jika mereka diduduki tentara lain lagi, belum tentu sikap tentara baru itu akan sebaik tentara Jerman yang pernah menduduki desa mereka.

Dalam Badai di Bulan Juni diperlihatkan bagaimana sebagian besar karakter bersikap buruk dan moralnya merosot, sementara kebaikan ditonjolkan oleh pasangan Michaud yang meski menderita, namun mereka tetap tulus, sabar dan nrimo. Hubungan yang harmonis antara pasangan suami istri Michaud cukup dapat menghangatkan hati pembaca, apalagi ketika mereka dihajar dengan hadiah yang manis pada akhir bagian pertama.

Hal paling menarik dalam Dolce mungkin adalah hubungan yang berkembang antara Lucile dan Bruno von Falk. Lucile yang sudah muak dengan suasana perang menemukan seorang teman dalam diri Bruno, dan memandangnya sepenuhnya sebagai seorang manusia yang bisa diajak berbicara dan berbagi; seragam hijau tentara Jerman yang dipakai Bruno diabaikan oleh mata Lucile.

“Tentu dalam perang,” katanya kepada dirinya sendiri, “ada tahanan perang, janda, penderitaan, kelaparan, pendudukan. Lalu, kenapa? Aku tak pernah melakukan hal yang salah. Dia seorang teman yang patut dihargai, buku, musik, percakapan-percakapan panjang kami, berjalan-jalan bersama di Hutan Maie… Yang menjadikan hal ini sebagai hal yang tak patut dilakukan adalah perang ini, penderitaan universal ini. Tetapi ia tak lebih bertanggung jawab daripada aku! Ini bukan salah kami. Kalau saja mereka membiarkan kami… Kalau saja mereka membiarkan saja kami!”

Pada akhirnya Lucile memutuskan bahwa meski perang yang kejam mengubah banyak hal, namun ia ingin kebebasan untuk memilih jalannya sendiri, ia punya hak menentukan nasibnya sendiri. Ia memutuskan bahwa ia tak peduli bahwa negaranya dan negara si perwira saling berperang, karena kenyataannya Lucile dan Bruno bersahabat. Semua itu tidak salah… yang menjadikan salah adalah adanya perang yang memborbardir kedamaian antar manusia.

Mungkin, daya tarik paling utama dari Suite Française adalah fakta bahwa novel ini tidak selesai. Sang penulis, dalam catatan-catatan pribadi yang dilampirkan dalam apendiks, mengungkapkan rencananya untuk menulis novel dalam lima volume dengan total sekitar 1.600 halaman. Melalui apendiks kita tahu bahwa Irène Némirovsky tidak main-main dalam menulis, ia punya pemahaman memadai tentang keadaan politik dan sosial Prancis sebagai modal untuk menulis buku mahakaryanya. Walaupun tahu ajalnya sudah mendekat, ia tidak berhenti menulis. Dan penulisannya memang cantik meskipun terjemahannya (atau editannya, atau keduanya) kurang mampu mempertahankan kecantikan tulisan aslinya. Pada banyak bagian saya menemukan terjemahan yang aneh dan editan yang berantakan.

Kisah tentang sang penulis sendiri juga tak kalah menariknya (baca Prakata pada apendiks): beliau adalah seorang Yahudi yang ditangkap Jerman bulan Juli 1942 dan kelak tewas di kamar gas (dengan demikian meninggalkan Suite Française tidak terselesaikan). Diceritakan juga bagaimana manuskrip Suite Française selamat berkat Denise, putri Némirovsky dan baru dipublikasikan enam puluh tahun kemudian. Seandainya novel ini selesai, bukan tidak mungkin Suite Française bisa menyaingi kebesaran War and Peace karya Leo Tolstoy. Namun takdir sudah berkata lain, dan kita harus puas dengan dua bagian novel yang memberi kita sekilas pemahaman tentang perasaan dan penderitaan rakyat sipil Prancis saat Perang Dunia II berkecamuk, khususnya pada awal pendudukan Jerman di Prancis.


suite_francaise_12sht_f-page-001

Suite Française sudah difilmkan dengan bintang Michelle Williams sebagai Lucile Angellier, Matthias Schoenaerts sebagai Bruno von Falk dan Kristin Scott Thomas sebagai Madame Angellier. Bagaimana film ini mengembangkan cerita dari novelnya yang tidak selesai? Kita lihat saja nanti…

2nd review for Project Baca Buku Cetak | 2nd review for New Authors Reading Challenge 2015 | 1st review for Read Big Challenge 2015


Detail buku:

Suite Française, oleh Irène Némirovsky
642 halaman, diterbitkan 2011 oleh Penerbit Qanita (Mizan Group) (pertama kali diterbitkan 2004)
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

 

***A SMALL TRUTH***

I am haunted by this book.

Sit still, children. Death has a story to tell. It is about the book thief, who was but a fourteen year-old skinny German girl living in Nazi Germany, whose name was Liesel Meminger. The book thief first conducted her felony when she was nine, the day her little brother was buried in the snow. She, along with her mother and little brother, travelled down to Munich where foster parents would soon take over the care of the children. Or as we shall put it after Liesel’s brother death; only one child. Soon Liesel would separate from her mother and proceed to Himmel Street in Molching, and became foster daughter of Hans and Rosa Hubermann. What an unlikely couple the Hubermanns were, since Hans was the accordion-playing, fatherly-loving figure that Liesel would learn to love dearly soon, and Rosa was a lady rich with words (in which I mean swearing) and she liked to give Liesel a good watschen (which is a slap to one’s bottom). Liesel then learned to read with her beloved foster father, and continued book thievery; from Nazi book-burnings, from the mayor’s wife library and so on. One of her treasured books was The Standover Man, a gift from an unexpected guest for the Hubermanns who came one night, Max Vandenburg. Max was a Jewish fist fighter whose father once fought alongside Hans on World War I. He sought help from the Hubermanns that they would hide him in their house. They paid him the service, and Max then became an important part of the Hubermann family. Max’s presence seemed to bind everyone closer and Liesel became his best friend when he did not even dare to imagine having one. The story then takes readers to witness the struggles the Hubermanns were having for  hiding a Jew, and how the residents of Molching dealt with bomb-droppings on their homes, and how Liesel’s love for books helped them endure the sufferings because of  war. Clearly, an end awaits all of them, Jew or not Jew. An end where lies an enormous possibility that Death is already waiting.

 “They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalog of colors. That wasn’t how the book thief described them, but I can tell you that that’s exactly what they were, for many of them would die. They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke and their souls trailing behind.”

 As the main character, Liesel was nothing special. What made her special is the relationship that grew between her and other characters: with Hans Hubermann, with Max, with her ‘boyfriend’; the lemon-haired Rudy Steiner, with the mayor’s wife, and even with Rosa Hubermann, who we would later realize that she could love as much as any other characters in the book.

I love Markus Zusak’s writing style in this book tremendously, despite of some people who call it abnormal, especially for his style of personifying things or figurative language. For me, it’s original and captivating. Dark and gloomy as it is, the author kept the book true and honest, without any unnecessary sweetness. The author’s imagination in making Death the narrator is brilliant. And it made me think, could it be that Death is not as evil as we all think? He’s just doing his job, right?

This book is one of the very few books that can actually make me cry. I’m more of a visual person who cries more easily when seeing an emotional scene, rather than reading one. Yes, I cried at the end of the book. It wasn’t until I reached the last 100 pages that I decided that this book deserves my perfect rating. I think the author kept his best for last. Therefore, five stars.

“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the Führer as loyally as me. A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”

***

 Book details:
“The Book Thief”, by Markus Zusak
552 pages Paperback, published 2007 by Knopf
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Surabaya, Indonesia, June 18th, 2012

Dear friend,

I’ve just read a wonderful book called “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” a few weeks ago, and I thought that I’d write a personal letter to you recommending it.

What first comes to your mind when you hear “World War II”? War must mean blood, chaos, ruthlessness, hope running out; don’t you think? Well, this book was set at the end of the World War II. The main character was Juliet Ashton, a writer for the English weekly Spectator under the pseudonym Izzy Bickerstaff. With her humorous writings Juliet brought the minds of people away from the war for a while. Juliet might have been famous for her Izzy Bickerstaff columns, but she had much deeper passion when it comes to literature. She also wrote a biography of Anne Brontë, which was sold poorly. When she was looking for a subject for her next book, she was accidentally corresponding with Dawsey Adams from the Guernsey Island, who told her about the book society he’s been involved in, how was the society accidentally formed during the German occupation, and how books changed the bitter lives of its members during wartime. Driven by curiosity, Juliet asked Dawsey if she could correspond to other members of the society, and BAM! Her wish was granted. She wrote and received long letters from almost all of the members, only to realize that she fell in love with them and she longed to read more from them. I won’t spoil much plot of the book, but you will find surprises as you turn the pages, surprises that would make you smile long after you finished it. I particularly liked the character Juliet, a woman who would dump a guy because he didn’t share her love for books (whoops!). Guernsey was written by Mary Ann Shaffer and continued by her niece, Annie Barrows.

Have you ever hear about Guernsey Island before? Yes, Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables during his period of exile in Guernsey. It is a British Crown dependency in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy. I attached the map and some photos of the beautiful little island if you’re curious.

Back to the book, it was written in epistolary method (told in series of letters). It was warm and sweet, witty and romantic, you’ll fall in love with the characters (well, not all, thankfully), and it tells a lot about the love for literature. Anybody who loves books and literature should read this book. But mind you, men might not enjoy this book. It was like chick lit set in the 1940s era, written especially for book lovers. By page 11 I found one of my favorite lines of the book:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

And in page 16:

“I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers—booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one—the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it—along with first dibs on the new books.”

And this one line in page 56 reminds me so much of the Indonesian Book Bloggers (BBI) community I’m involved in:

“We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.”

Ain’t that sweet? 😀

So, my dear friend, if you are curious much after reading my letter, I suggest you grab a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, as soon as possible. And do you know, the book is filming at the time being with Kate Winslet as Juliet Ashton! When you have read the book, if you loved it, maybe we can watch the movie together. See you when it comes!

Truly yours,
Melisa

Book details:
“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
305 pages Paperback, published May 2009 by Random House
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥