Novel set in occupied France wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
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American author Anthony Doerr was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on Monday for his novel “All the Light We Cannot See”, which is set in German-occupied France during World War II.
Doerr happened to be in Paris, where part of the book is set, when he learned about the award. “I’m here, to find this out – it’s crazy,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
The Pulitzer jury praised Doerr’s book as “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology”.
In “All the Light We Cannot See”, Doerr beautifully intertwines the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young, blind French girl, and Werner Pfenning, a gifted orphan who is conscripted into the German army during World War II.
While much of the book is set in 1944 during the allied bombing of the northern French coastal town of Saint-Malo, it also follows Marie-Laure’s life in Paris during the final days before it was occupied, as well as Werner’s childhood in Germany and subsequent military service abroad.
The novel, which is well over 500 pages long, took Doerr 10 years to complete. The author said he decided to set much of the story in Saint-Malo during a visit to the town while on a book tour.
“I was walking around this beautiful seaside town, a walled fortress, the beautiful green waters of the channel breaking against the walls, and I told my editor, ‘Look how old this is. This medieval town is so pretty,’ and he said that, actually, this town was almost entirely destroyed in 1944 by your country, by American bombs,” Doerr said in a video in which he discusses his inspiration for the novel. “So I started researching a lot about the city of Saint-Malo, and immediately I knew that was the setting.”
The book was an instant success. It has spent 30 weeks on the New York Times best seller list and was nominated as a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, as well as for the 2015 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Competition for the prize was stiff. Other finalists included Richard Ford’s “Let Me Be Frank With You” which is set during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; Laila Lalami’s “The Moor’s Account” which tells the story of an ill-fated Spanish expedition to Florida during the 16th century; and Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lovely, Dark, Deep”, a collection of 13 stories.
Doerr, who lives in Idaho with his wife and twin sons, is also the author of the story collections “Memory Wall” and “The Shell Collector", the memoir “Four Seasons in Rome”, and the novel “About Grace”.