Book Review: All The Light There Was


 “…the sound of those boots reverberated in my head for months, and then for years, and sometimes even still. This is the story of how we lived the war, and how I found my husband.”

These words, as they closed out Chapter 1, had me immediately falling in love with All The Light There Was. The love affair with Nancy Kricorian’s novel continued to the very end. Indeed, I was moved many times while reading, and finished the final chapters sitting in my car, waiting for my daughter to finish her cheer practice. In there, I was openly crying during these final chapters for Ms. Kricorian has written a beautifully moving tale.

Thank you to Net Galley, Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt (and the Canadian publishing arm Thomas Allen & Son) and finally, Windsor Public Library for allowing me the joy of reading this book.  All The Light There Was is a wonderfully touching tale of an Armenian family surviving the Nazi occupation of Paris during WWII.

All the Light There Was is the story of an Armenian family’s struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s—a lyrical, finely wrought tale of loyalty, love, and the many faces of resistance.

On the day the Nazis march down the rue de Belleville, fourteen-year-old Maral Pegorian is living with her family in Paris; like many other Armenians who survived the genocide in their homeland, they have come to Paris to build a new life. The adults immediately set about gathering food and provisions, bracing for the deprivation they know all too well. But the children—Maral, her brother Missak, and their close friend Zaven—are spurred to action of another sort, finding secret and not-so-secret ways to resist their oppressors. Only when Zaven flees with his brother Barkev to avoid conscription does Maral realize that the Occupation is not simply a temporary outrage to be endured. After many fraught months, just one brother returns, changing the contours of Maral’s world completely.

So, try as I may, I have been unable to give up Goodreads. So yes, I did venture on the site to read other reader’s comments/reviews about the book, while I was reading. However, I cannot say I agree with many of these comments, especially those calling the book predictable and shallow? Really? Were we reading the same book? I felt nothing of the sort while reading. Instead, I was completely engaged and unable to put the book down.

Was it predictable due to the love story/path Maral was on to marry her husband? Not particularly.  How many women must have been betrothed to men that went off to war, never to return? I felt the story of Maral’s love and devotion for Zaven incredibly touching and very emotional. The story of how Maral mourns the loss of Zaven when he first leaves and then when he does not return, but also when she embraces her role  of duty and honour when she then marries his brother Barkev was incredibly emotional and really tugged at my heart. I felt it perfectly detailed how Maral was torn by her decision to stay true to Zaven and also Barkev when a dashing, wonderful man named Andon comes in to her life. Andon keeps true and waits patiently for Maral as she struggles between duty and true love.

Is it due to the part of the story where this Armenian family saved their neighbour’s young girl from the fate that awaited her Jewish parents? Well of course we’ve read a number of WWII stories where the heroic and unselfish acts that some braved in order to save the Jews from their horrific end. All The Light There Was wonderfully blended this aspect of Maral’s story. It was incredibly genuine, touching and very emotional, in my opinion. As well,  the characters in this novel were perfectly rendered. So much so that they continue to haunt my thoughts.

Truthfully, I haven’t really been able to become involved in another book following the end of All The Light There Was because it had such a powerful impact on me. I absolutely loved it, it was a beautiful and heartfelt story of a family struggling to endure daily life during Nazi occupation. 4  stars. A Literary Hoarders Approved Read for certain. I also learned a great deal about the Armenian people and how they were affected by the war and of their way of life, traditions and the many wonderful Armenian proverbs.

Review: The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R.

Thank you to Thomas Allen & Son LTD publishers for sending us this advanced copy of The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R. (Publication date is March 27, 2012) Based on the description of the book, and this glorious cover I was very intrigued and quite anxious to read it. The book cover, the actual feel of the book, and the pages are all so sultry and rich. The language is very rich as well. And because of that it took me a fair amount of time to get in to it. At times I will say I was a little lost amid all the words, the overdescriptions and what I felt to be fragmented thoughts?

For instance:

My back ached and I put my hand there, feeling the desperate undulation of these moods; the hunger of the man for what he wanted; his furious need varnished over by an adherence to a strict set of principles, a labyrinth for which there was no Plan de Paris. His was a ranging, ferocious appetite and at the same time, its despair.

I didn’t understand and I laboured for some time trying to grasp what DeSanti was trying to convey. However, I perservered, and once giving it a chance and adapting to her style of writing, I found myself lost in Eugenie’s saga. A woman wronged and misled, finding herself abandoned in Paris and having to make her way in the only manner in which women in Paris could without a man or marriage, (These parts reminded me of The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay.) and then fighting to keep her child. She eventually did have to abandon Berthe and spent some time searching to get her back.

And then about half way through, my interest in Eugenie began to wane as her plight became tedious and well, dull. I just lost all connection to her. When I first realized Eugenie’s lover was not planning on appearing in Paris with his promised excitement and luxurious lifestyle, I almost thought that Eugenie could have fled Paris then and its ridiculous and restrictive regulations for young women in that time period. Once you discovered you were abandoned, would you not find some small countryside to escape to or some place that would look upon a young woman down on her luck more favourably? Perhaps that is my naivite speaking. But to continue to be used by the few men and women you surrounded yourself with and to consistently return to prostitution after the birth of your daughter, I just felt there could have been other ways of surviving or other avenues to explore. Eugenie just wasn’t a heroine I felt connected to, or exhilirated by.

The ending was somewhat disappointing as well and again, just didn’t build in to a satisfying finish. I had such high expectations for this novel and it just didn’t meet them. I’m saddened, but it happens sometimes I suppose.

Synopsis of The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R: Love and war converge in this lush, epic story of a young woman’s struggle with life and love during and after the Second Empire (1860–1871), an era that was absinthe-soaked, fueled by railway money and prostitution, and transformed by cataclysmic social upheaval.   Eugénie R., born in France’s foie gras country, follows the man she loves to Paris, but soon finds herself marooned, pregnant, and penniless. She gives birth to a daughter she is forced to abandon and spends the next ten years fighting to get her back. An outcast, Eugénie takes to the streets, navigating her way up from ruin and charting the treacherous waters of sexual commerce. Along the way she falls in love with an artist, a woman, and a revolutionary. The capital, the gleaming center of art and civilization in Europe, is enjoying its final years of wanton prosperity before galloping headlong into the Franco-Prussian War. For Eugénie it is a conflicted landscape—grisly, evocative, and addictive. As the gates of the city close against the advancing army, Eugénie must make a decision between past and present—between the people she loves most.   The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. is a testament to the power of love, friendship, and the art of self-creation.

Check out Carole DeSanti’s website, it’s as sultry and beautiful as the cover and with pictures of Eugenie and Paris here:

Eugenie R also has her own Facebook page here:

We are anxious to review the other books Thomas Allen sent to us (thank you! thank you!), and are to be published in April/May so we will read closer to those dates. All 3 sound amazing, from a peek behind North Korea’s Iron Curtain (All Women in Springtime), to a prep school (The Year of the Gadfly), to a woman on trial for madness during the Civil War (Blue Asylum). Cannot wait to get to these!! Don’t they sound perfect?