Is All the Light We Cannot See based on a true story?
Is the emotional story of war, hope and humanity based on a real-life tale?
Netflix’s All The Light We Cannot See tells the captivating tale of two teenagers living through World War II in Nazi-occupied France.
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See revolves around Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti) and Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofman), two young people on opposite sides of the war – one French, and one German – who cross paths in the bombarded French seaside town of Saint-Malo.
According to the Netflix synopsis: "Marie-Laure and Daniel (Mark Ruffalo) soon find refuge in St Malo, where they take up residence with a reclusive uncle who transmits clandestine radio broadcasts as part of the resistance.
"Yet here in this once-idyllic seaside city, Marie-Laure’s path also collides inexorably with the unlikeliest of kindred spirits: Werner, a brilliant teenager enlisted by Hitler’s regime to track down illegal broadcasts, who instead shares a secret connection to Marie-Laure as well as her faith in humanity and the possibility of hope."
If you're wondering whether the show is based on a true story, read on for everything you need to know about the inspiration behind the tale.
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Is All the Light We Cannot See based on a true story?
The answer is no. All the Light We Cannot See is a work of fiction written by bestselling author Anthony Doerr that was 10 years in the making. While the Second World War is obviously a very real historical event, the stories within the book and the Netflix series are fictitious.
Doerr was, however, inspired by something when thinking of his next novel. In a 2014 interview with NPR, the author revealed that the idea for the book came on an unlikely train ride.
He explained: "I was on a train heading into Penn Station from Princeton, NJ, and we started going underground. The man in front of me was on his cellphone call — this was in 2004 — and the call dropped. And he got kind of angry, a little embarrassingly angry, unreasonably angry.
"And I just remember thinking, what he's forgetting — really what we're all forgetting all the time — is that this is a miracle. He's using this little receiver and transmitter, this little radio in his pocket, to send messages at the speed of light rebounding between towers to somebody maybe thousands of miles away. He might have been talking to someone in Madagascar for all I knew. For me, that's a miracle."
He added: "So ... originally, the real central motivation for the book was to try and conjure up a time when hearing the voice of a stranger in your home was a miracle."
He explained that setting the story in the real location of Saint-Malo was in no small part due to the fact that he visited the town while on a book tour and thought it was an old town when in reality, he was informed that it was almost completely bombed in 1944.
Doerr said that there are "still-untold stories tucked within the D-Day story" that compelled him when writing the book. He said: "I feel like, here this was two months after D-Day and the Allies had penetrated almost halfway to Paris. And yet here was this citadel where Germans were still holding out. Those things really drew me into the story."
The battle of Saint-Malo, which unfolds in the book and series, is real, though. The battle was fought between German and Allied forces and unfolded across August to September in 1944.
The port town lies on the coast of Brittany and was bombed extensively over the period, but was rebuilt after the war.
In terms of framing the story around the radio, Doerr said in an interview with Goodreads: "So, I thought, I wanted to tell a story in a time in history when radio had a lot of power. When hearing the voice of a stranger or a loved one in your home, in your ear, was a magical thing. So I knew I'd have to go back to World War I or World War II and try to remember that.
"Then I started reading about radio transmissions and propaganda in Nazi Germany. It really started with how you can map the level of violence of the genocide in Rwanda by the strength of radio transmissions there. Literally disc jockeys were fomenting violence on the radio.
"You could tell by the level of reception how violent it was there. That was such a vivid illustration of the power of radio. So I started to read old broadcasts that the Third Reich put out to their citizens, and that got me started."
As for the characters within the book, Doerr has said that he researched extensively for the character of Marie-Laure. He said in the same interview: "I read lots and lots of memoirs – anything about someone going blind or had been blind, especially somebody who had lost his or her sight as a child. I knew I wanted her to have some visual memory.
"But primarily just reading: And There Was Light by a guy named Jacques Lusseyran. A writer named Edward Hoagland has this beautiful memoir [Compass Points]. He lost his sight as an older man. He started walking in New York City, and everything he saw was radiant because he knew he wouldn't see it again. It's harrowing. Sad. Oliver Sacks writes about blindness in lots of different ways."
Does All The Light We Cannot See’s Sea of Flames diamond exist in real life?
No, the Sea of Flames — a rare and supposedly cursed diamond in the show — is an invention.
However, Deorr told Powell’s in 2014 that he was inspired by the Delhi Purple Sapphire, a jewel which resides in the British National History Museum and is believed to be cursed.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is available to buy now.
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