Student Picks: Doerr and Mitchell


Arun Chittur-- I’m a longtime skeptic of historical fiction because of its reputation for overworked description, academic focus on timeline, and characters concerned more with events than their own lives. Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See corrected my long-time drought. 

Doerr introduces readers to Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl, stranded after her father falls into Nazi captivity, and Werner, a German orphan who finds friendship and structure in Hitler’s army; the book relies on the unlikely thread between these two ostensible enemies.

Doerr’s structure invests readers in each character just long enough, making use of short, single scene-based chapters to bring us in personally. The book is then broken into multiple parts, each a different time period around or during World War II. The timeline slides backward and forward, leading one to believe the plot too difficult to follow and to assume the book will return to the shelf half-read. Alas, you’re left with more questions and no choice but to press on, hoping for answers.

The chapters show one moment, one place, one emotion. Then as soon as your heart subsumes the character’s, perspective changes, and you begin again, always longing to understand the world around you still cannot see.


K. A. Hamilton-- "This book does not contain a misprint on page 39," Amazon warns, a foreshadowing of the form-bending journey to come. On its surface, Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is a collection of found documents, torn apart at their middles and nestled within one another. Going deeper into the journals, films, and manuscripts, it’s a story of karma that follows a chorus of souls over six different lifetimes.

Belief in reincarnation is not a prerequisite for the audience, as the cyclical themes of subjugation and justice are universally human. In fact, the premise is never explicitly stated; it only exists as a mounting sense of connectedness between the people of each era. In this novel that spans period and genre, Mitchell demonstrates the subtle power of what’s left unsaid. There is an electric urgency to the message, and a call to action that is impossible to set aside when the book is done.