Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See has spent 70 weeks on The New York Times HARDCOVER BEST SELLERS list. I read Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome a few years ago and loved it. A travel/family nonfiction book, it really captured the essence of The Eternal City for me. Luckily, I know Rome quite well, and I highly recommend both it and Four Seasons.
Last night I started reading All the Light We Cannot See. Readers meet the 2 main characters in the first couple of chapters. The girl lives in Saint-Malo, France, and the boy in or near Essen, Germany. Zollverein is mentioned early on. I wasn’t familiar with either place.
I got my European map book out and began hunting for Saint-Malo. All I knew was that it was a French coastal city. I began at the Belgium/France border and moved my finger down toward Calais. I passed Le Havre, the D-Day beaches, and Mont Saint-Michel and finally found Saint-Malo. I never found Zollverein in Germany.
I began to wonder how Anthony Doerr heard about Saint-Malo and found the answer in Acknowledgments where Doerr wrote, “Thank you to Francis Geffard, who brought me to Saint-Malo for the first time.” So, thank you Anthony Doerr for bringing Rome to life for me and now Saint-Malo.
Saint-Malo does seem interesting as a destination. I did some research and found out that it’s a major tourist stop in Brittany, especially for Brits, at the mouth of the Rance River. Visitors seem to love its cobbled streets and restaurants. It’s said to have one of the greatest concentrations of restaurants in Europe. This medieval, walled town’s nickname is “The City of Corsairs” so it probably has pirates in its history. During World War II, the time of All the Light We Cannot See, Saint-Malo was almost completely destroyed when the Allies bombed it.
Zollverein turned out to be, not a town, but a coal mine/industrial complex 18 miles north of Essen. At one time it was the world’s largest coal mining facility and now it’s reportedly a culture center. “It’s Bauhaus-influenced design,” according to germany.travel is an especially good example of industrial architecture. “The building still has great aesthetic appeal,” it concludes.
Both Saint-Malo and Zollverein sound like great destinations, but so do thousands of other places in the world. Oh, well, at least I can read about them in All the LIght We Cannot See and imagine what they look like. So far, it seems like a wonderful book.