It’s been three years since the release of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, but the Idaho writer is still on the ride, about to head out on a month-long tour promoting the paperback version. One of his first stops is at The Music Hall April 9, part of its Writers on a New England stage series.
The book weaves together stories about two teenagers — a blind French girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a German soldier and radio genius named Werner Pfennig — during World War II. Since its 2015 Pulitzer win, Doerr’s schedule has become busier, and his home has seen more unexpected visitors, but many things haven’t changed. Writing remains hard and uncertain. His kids still haven’t realized how cool he is.
“They’d think I was [cooler] if I could slam dunk or get LeBron James to come over. I’m their dad. I drive them around to see their friends,” Doerr said, laughing, via phone last week.
But every so often, he’s overwhelmed by the support; he referenced a book festival he attended in Saint-Malo, France, where the book is set.
“That was an extremely emotional experience. The mayor gave me this medal on the roof of the château of Saint-Malo, and people would come up to me who had an uncle or great-uncle or aunt who died in the war. Meeting these people was really, really emotional. For them, it was not just history — it was memory,” Doerr said.
All the Light We Cannot See was a massive project, requiring much research, detail and planning. During the 10 years he worked on it, he published three other books — About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome and Memory Wall. Even on the most challenging days, something kept him going.
“There is usually some seed, some gem at the core of the project that’s fascinating for me. For All the Light, radio was my fascination. Radio and its power as a technology, and thinking about how these new technologies — like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram — are being used. That idea, that fascination never goes away,” he said. “In this case, it was a historical novel, but you know it’s relevant somehow when you see Trump the candidate using Twitter, sometimes extremely effectively, and so the way people used radio during the war will seem relevant.”
Doerr is looking forward to his New Hampshire visit. His wife grew up in North Hampton, and he joked that he used to visit the state to buy tax-free beer as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College. He’s not quite sure what his presentation will look like; sometimes, after he’s answered questions about the book, he’ll speak on subjects like the importance of reading.
His family recently participated in the “Read 4 Refugees” campaign, encouraging participants to stay in and read, donating the money you would have spent on dinner to RefugePoint. (He read Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar; his wife read The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama; and his sons were all about Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.)
Another project is underway, but Doerr wouldn’t talk much on it.
“You never really know until it’s done if it’s going to work! So you’re filled with doubt. I’m anxious all the time thinking about the projects, because I’m never sure it’s not going to cave in. You could spend two to three years on a project, and it could just kind of melt in your hand,” he said.