War, Not-War, and Peace: 'All the Light We Cannot See' by Anthony Doerr

Hosted by Oklahoma Humanities and Johnston County Library
Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr (The Rumpus)

Too often, ‘peace’ is simply the absence of active war. Ours is a country – and culture – forged in a crucible of war and conquest. What defines much of our national character is aggression, both its light and dark sides. The five Pulitzer Prize recognized books selected for this series are: 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, 1991 Fiction finalist 

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne, 2011 General Nonfiction finalist 

Maus by Art Spiegelman, 1992 Special Citation winner 

Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa, 1994 Poetry winner 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 2015 Fiction winner 

These choices reflect not only the requisite scholarship, but a deep commitment to presenting Pulitzer winners detailing both the active elements of war – seen clearly in Neon VernacularMaus, and Things – as well as the long-lived legacies of war, in those periods optimistically called ‘peace.’ The fragmented peace/non-war axis is evident in all five of the texts, which span a history beginning with the Indian Wars (Empire), move to WWII (Maus and All the Light) and the Vietnam War (Things and Neon Vernacular), and culminate in contemporary time. Given the parameters of the Pulitzer grant, perspectives are as broad as possible: characters are black, white, mixed race, Indian. Male and female, blind and sighted. German, Jewish, French, American, Comanche. Even genres have been examined to undercut the idea of the Pulitzers as awards for only certain kinds of texts: fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, poetry. The result is a prism through which war and peace are refracted in multiple colors, a vivid palette of war, not-war, and peace. 

On December 6, Glenn Melancon, Ph.D. will present on All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr shows us victims of war who are not combatants – the French family of blind Marie-Laure, her father and great-uncle, their friends and other family – each caught in war despite their distance from the ‘battlefield.’ But there is also the story of Werner, a boy blinded by his almost innocent morality. Together the two negotiate a war as labyrinthine for each as the model neighborhoods Monsieur LeBlanc creates for Marie-Laure. But even as combat ends, the period of ‘not-war’ begins, with its difficult to impossible readjustments. Eschewing spoilers, this harmonic vibrates in the closing chapters of Doerr's book, where World War II continues to twine long tendrils through the lives of its survivors.

More in this series:

Aug. 30, 6:30 p.m.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien                   

Presenter: Ken Hada, Ph.D.

Sept. 20, 6:30 p.m.

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Presenter: Rex Morrell, Ph.D.

Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Presenter: Robert Greenstreet, Ph.D.

Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakka

Presenter: Bill Hagen, Ph.D.

Dec. 6, 6:30 p.m.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Presenter: Glenn Melancon, Ph.D.