All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452

The three most important characters in All the Light We Cannot See are Marie-Laure LeBlanc, Daniel LeBlanc, and Werner Pfennig. There is also a host of other characters whose lives and stories entwine with Marie-Laure, Daniel, and Werner.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives with her father, Daniel, in Paris. She's 16 at the beginning of the novel. She's blind from the age of six due to juvenile cataracts. Marie-Laure learns the geography of the area where she lives through the models her father builds for her. He teaches her the neighborhood in the real world too, making sure she can get around on her own when he's not with her. She's skilled with puzzles and loves to read. 

Daniel LeBlanc, Marie-Laure's father, is a widow who works as a master locksmith. He's a loving father who's devoted to his daughter. With World War II looming, he's tasked to build three replicas of a gem called the Sea of Flames so that it can be transported safely out of France. He and Marie-Laure take one of the gems when they escape Paris and travel to Saint-Malo to stay with Etienne. 

Werner Pfennig is a young German orphan whose only family is his sister Jutta. He's interested in radios and circuits, using his skills to repair a damaged short-wave radio. They listen to many broadcasts on it -- including one from France that focuses on science, which inflames Werner's imagination. Eventually, his skills are noticed and he's sent to a training school where he'll learn to use his skills as a Nazi soldier. He excels and eventually becomes a soldier in Germany's army. His skills contribute to the German cause, but Werner becomes increasingly aware of the horrible things his talents are enabling -- such as the death of a young girl. 

Etienne LeBlanc, Daniel's brother, is a war veteran who hasn't recovered mentally from World War I. He broadcasts the science radio show that captures Werner's imagination. He allows Daniel and Marie-Laure to stay with him when they flee from Paris; he's part of the French Resistance and keeps using his radio skills to send out broadcasts for them.

Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel is a German officer in the Army. He's looking for the Sea of Flames and almost kills Marie in his quest to obtain it. Werner saves Marie-Laure from Von Rumpel. 

Madame Manec, Etienne's maid, also works for the French Resistance. When she's too ill to continue her work, Marie-Laure takes over and carries messages for her.

Jutta Pfennig is Werner's sister. Many years after Werner's death from stepping on a landmine, she travels to meet Marie-Laure and talk about Werner and his death.

Frau Elena is the headmistress of the German orphanage.

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