All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Part 5 : January 1941 | Summary



January Recess

The school is in recess, and Frederick invites Werner to spend it at his home in Berlin. It is clear to Werner that his friend does not blame him for his betrayal during the beating. The boy seems to understand that they each follow a specific, fated course from which they cannot deviate.

Frederick's parents occupy the second floor of a five-story townhouse. It soon becomes apparent to Werner that Frederick's parents are rich and well connected. He also learns Frederick has no business being enrolled in Schulpforta. Soon after the boys arrive, his friend slips on a pair of glasses, revealing unacceptably weak eyesight. Frederick explains that he passed the school eye exam by memorizing the four eye charts the examiners might use. His father had obtained them and his mother helped him practice. He then shows Werner a forbidden book of birds authored by American ornithologist James Audubon—forbidden because "it's American and was printed in Scotland."

When Frederick's mother arrives, there is wine and cheese and small talk. Though the bruises from Frederick's beating still show, his mother makes no comment. However, before hustling the boys off to dinner at an upscale bistro, she applies powder to Frederick's face to conceal the marks. At the bistro a stream of people comes over to shake Frederick's and Werner's hands. They also ask Frederick's mother about her husband's latest advancement. She assures everyone that "Fredde has all the best there at that school." She confides to one woman that soon the Jewess living on the top floor of their building will be gone. The floor will be theirs.

Back at the townhouse, Werner asks Frederick if he ever wishes he didn't have to return to the school. Frederick replies, "Father needs me to be at Schulpforta. Mother too. It doesn't matter what I want."

He Is Not Coming Back

It has been 20 days since Marie-Laure's father left for Paris. Day after day the girl has begged Madame Manec to take her to the train station. Hours have been spent writing letters and trying to petition occupation authorities to find her father. Etienne has written the museum officials, who say they are searching.

Now, angry and afraid, Marie-Laure withdraws from the world. She recalls her father's words long ago in Paris: "I will never leave you, not in a million years." She hardly eats and does not bathe, and "every second it feels as if her father slips farther away."


One icy morning in February, the cadets are summoned by Bastion to participate in the torture and death of a prisoner. The man is skeletal and tied to a stake in the middle of the quadrangle. Beginning with the instructors, every man in the school is instructed to throw a bucket of water at the prisoner. The instructors, upper classmen, 16-year-olds, and 15-year olds finish. Now Werner's class takes its turn. Werner dreads the moment when he must participate and tries to think of other things, but only visions of entrapment come to mind. When his turn arrives, he does what is required. However, when it is time for Frederick to drench the dying man, he refuses. Three times, he is handed a bucket of water and ordered by Bastion to throw it. Three times he pours it out on the ground and says, "I will not."

Plage du Môle

On the 29th day after Daniel LeBlanc's disappearance, Madame Manec insists on taking Marie-Laure out of the house. She hopes to bring the child out of the dark shell into which she has retreated like a frightened snail.

Madame Manec takes the girl beyond the town walls, to the beach. Marie-Laure worries about the Germans and the rumors that bombs have been buried on the beach. But Madame Manec reassures her, has her take off her shoes, and takes her walking along the shore. Marie-Laure discovers a new world of silky sand, pebbles, shells, barnacles, and seaweed. For three hours she explores, and "a months-old knot inside [her] begins to loosen." In her mind she sees the walled town with "its puzzle of streets," the beach, the coastline of Breton, and the outer islands as if they were no larger than one of her father's models.

Returning home, she presents her great-uncle Etienne with pockets full of treasures she has picked up on the beach.


Sergeant Major von Rumpel knows the stone in the museum is not the Sea of Flames; it is a fake. After several weeks, he has located the lapidary who cut the fake stone. The man's name is Dupont. Now he must force him to reveal all he knows about other replicas and who has them. Dupont is given forged food-ration tickets. When he tries to use them, he is arrested, and von Rumpel is notified.

Untitled (Letter from Papa)

Marie-Laure receives a letter signed "Papa" that explains "we are in Germany now" and assures her he is well.


The dead prisoner is left tied to the stake in the quadrangle for a week before being carted away. During one of Werner's night sessions in Dr. Hauptmann's lab, Frank Volkheimer tells the young cadet that this type of execution happens every year. The victim is always "a Pole, a Red, a Cossack." Werner asks if it was decent to leave the man out there after he was dead. Volkheimer replies, "Decency does not matter to them."

Three times in nine days, Frederick has been singled out as the weakest and made to run further and further, with less of a head start. He is always caught and beaten, yet he never cries out or asks to leave. To his shame, Werner does not stop the abuse. He tries to lose himself in his work; to block out the knowledge that the school is an ever-more diabolical place.

One day in Dr. Hauptmann's class, the concept of entropy is defined as "the degree of randomness or disorder in a system." The idea is then linked to the mission of the Reich: to bring order out of chaos and winnow out "the inferior, the unruly, the chaff" that causes decay from within.

The Rounds

Every morning, Marie-Laure and Madame Manec visit the beach, and Marie-Laure's collection of shells, pebbles, and sea glass grows. Upon returning from the beach, she follows Madame Manec as she makes her daily rounds to the market and the butcher's shop, and then to deliver food to neighbors in need. She also provides food for a veteran of the Great War named Hubert Bazin. In the war he lost his nose, left ear, and eye to shellfire, so he wears a mask over half his face. Bazin sleeps in an alcove behind the library in Saint-Malo.

Marie-Laure misses Papa, Paris, Dr. Geffard, her books, and other prized components of her past. Nevertheless, her visits to the beach and ramblings through the city with Madame Manec have made life more tolerable. She once again takes pleasure in discovery and in listening to Etienne's stories from his past. In her mind she is also building a "three-dimensional map" of Saint-Malo, like the model her father left her.

She imagines that somewhere far away, beyond the borders of France, her father sits in a cell. A dozen of his whittled models line the windowsill.

Nadel im Heuhaufen

One winter night, Dr. Hauptmann and Werner cross the frozen fields outside the school. They are going to test the pair of transceivers they have been working on for months. Ahead of them, Frank Volkheimer has been sent out to find an undisclosed, concealed spot from which to broadcast a radio signal. Werner is to use the two transceivers to locate this transmitter.

Werner spaces the two transceivers 200 meters apart and raises the antenna. He knows what radio band to search and picks up the transmitter's ping quickly. Then using the equation for triangulation, he figures where the ping is coming from, two and a half kilometers away.

Packing up the transceivers, Werner and Dr. Hauptmann begin the hunt. Werner feels elation at the prospect of all his work coming together. The numbers are becoming real; he is solving a problem. When they come upon Volkheimer, Dr. Hauptmann unholsters his pistol, telling Werner, "This close, Pfennig, you cannot hesitate." For one dreadful moment, Werner is certain his teacher will shoot Volkheimer, and something in his soul "shuts its scaly eyes." Then Dr. Hauptmann fires into the air. "This," he explains to Werner, "is what we're doing with the triangles."

The success of the test changes everything for Werner. He has pleased his professor. The pleasure of it lingers in his blood.


Nine women have gathered in Madame Manec's warm kitchen to grumble about deteriorating conditions in Saint-Malo since the occupation. It is not the first time. Marie-Laure sits in a chair by the fireplace and listens as their outraged complaining alternates with giddy laughter. Finally, Madame Manec gets up and deadbolts the kitchen door. Then she makes a daring proposal. The people of Saint-Malo are the ones who make the world of the invaders run. Rather than just complaining, they could do something—small things; simple things. Three of the women want no part of any plan for resistance. They leave. Of the six who stay, Marie-Laure wonders "who will cave, who will tattle, who will be the bravest."

You Have Other Friends

The persecution of Frederick by other cadets at Schulpforta escalates, while Werner retreats into Hauptmann's laboratory. Field tests of the transceivers continue, and Werner now is able to plot Volkheimer's location on a map in under five minutes. The project is being favorably monitored by several government ministries. Though Werner is told he is being loyal and good, he wakes in the dead of night, feeling he is betraying something.

One night Werner whispers to Frederick as they lay in their bunks, "You could go home, you know, to Berlin." He reasons that the cadets would aim their cruelty at some other target, and in a week or two Frederick could safely return. Rather than considering the advice, Frederick tells Werner it may be best if they were not friends anymore. Werner has his studies to think of, and their friendship has become a liability.

Old Ladies' Resistance Club

Madame Manec's small group of ladies has been busy. Their acts of mischief and vandalism are designed mostly to annoy the Germans and upset their carefully controlled occupation. The eldest among them, Madame Blanchard, is given the task of writing "Free France Now" on every five-franc note the ladies can gather. The goal is to spread the message as the money is spent.


Sergeant Major von Rumpel has been happy for months as his responsibilities have increased. He is one of the few Aryan diamond experts in the Reich, which makes him a valuable asset. He dreams of the day when he will walk the aisles of the great Führermuseum in Linz with its gleaming cases full of the world's confiscated mineral treasures. Its crowning jewel will be the Sea of Flames.

Von Rumpel has extracted valuable information about the blue stone's replicas from the lapidary Dupont. There are three fakes, all made by Dupont. Von Rumpel already knows one resides at the National Museum. Dupont cannot tell him who has the other two or who has the real stone.

In the meantime, von Rumpel has grown concerned about his health. When he visits the doctor for the swelling in his groin, the doctor says a biopsy is necessary.

Weakest (#3)

One April morning, Werner awakens to find Frederick missing from his bunk. He does not show up for breakfast, poetics class, or field exercises. Conflicting rumors hint that some cruel, dire plot has been carried out.

Risking detention, or worse, Werner skips lunch and goes to the school infirmary. The nurse tells him Frederick has been taken to Leipzig for surgery. She will not tell him what happened, but the single bed in the infirmary is covered in blood from the pillow to the sheets to the metal bed frame.

Werner thinks of Jutta and knows he "will never be able to tell her about this."

Untitled (Letter from Papa)

In another letter to Marie-Laure, her Papa tells he is part of a work gang building a road and he is getting stronger every day. He hopes that she and Etienne will keep sending parcels—something is bound to get through to him eventually. He assures he that he is "incredibly safe, as safe as safe can be."


On a summer day, Marie-Laure and Madame Manec visit Hubert Bazin behind the library. Unexpectedly, he invites them to a secret place beneath the city walls. They follow him on a winding path through narrow alleys Marie-Laure's fingers have never discovered on her father's model of Saint-Malo. The entrance—a gate in the ramparts—requires a key, which Hubert possesses. They descend into a grotto that reeks of the sea. He shows Marie-Laure how the walls are studded with snails. She discovers mussels, sea stars, barnacles, and hermit crabs as well.

Bazin and Marie-Laure's grandfather used to play in the cave as children. Even at high tide, the water level never got more than waist deep. Long ago, Bazin tells the girl, city kennel keepers kept huge mastiffs in the cave and would release them onto the beach when the curfew bells rang. The dogs would keep sailors from coming ashore.

After exploring a while, the trio returns through the gate. Bazin privately asks Marie-Laure if she could find this place again. When she says yes, he presses the key into her hand.


By October 1941 it seems certain that Russia will fall to German forces. Werner is 15 years old. A new boy sleeps in Frederick's bunk, and Volkheimer has gone, possibly to the Russian front. The newest cadets are wild to prove they are ready to fight. To Werner, they seem intoxicated "on rigor and exercise and gleaming boot leather."

Werner thinks nostalgically of home, Frau Elena, and Jutta all the time. He especially misses his sister, yet at times he resents her stubbornness and her ability to recognize what is right. Her letters to him are always heavily censored; she asks questions that should not be asked. Werner knows that only his privileged association with Dr. Hauptmann and their project keeps him safe.

The Blade and the Whelk

Madame Manec meets with a man called René in the Hôtel-Dieu dining room. While Marie-Laure listens, he gives Madame instructions on types of information that would be useful to gather for the resistance. Later, back at the kitchen, Marie-Laure and Madame Manec playfully choose aliases for themselves. Marie-Laure decides she would like to be called the Whelk. Madame, who is peeling peaches, decides she should be the Blade.

Untitled (Letter from Jutta)

Jutta's letter to Werner hints at shortages of heat and warm clothing in Zollverein. She also sends him his old childhood notebook full of juvenile questions. Looking at it brings on an acute rush of homesickness that makes Werner clamp shut his eyes.

Alive Before You Die

Madame Manec tries to convince Etienne to join in the ladies' resistance efforts. Marie-Laure listens to the exchange from outside the door to Etienne's study. Etienne wants no part of Madame's schemes. He has no wish to make trouble. "Isn't doing nothing a kind of troublemaking?" Madame Manec asks. She insists that he could use the radio in the attic to transmit coded messages to the outside world. The messages will come to them on strips of paper baked into bread by Madame Ruelle. Etienne labels the plan childish. In a last effort to draw him in, Madame Manec asks, "Don't you want to be alive before you die?" Etienne sends her away and goes back to his book.

No Out

In January 1942 Werner asks Dr. Hauptmann for permission to go home. The doctor is taken aback. After all he has done for Werner—the chocolates, the special treatment, the protection—the boy thinks he can leave. The doctor informs Werner that "we serve the Reich ... It does not serve us." He then orders Werner to come to the lab as usual that night. There will be no more chocolates; no more special treatment.

The Disappearance of Hubert Bazin

One morning, when Madame Manec and Marie-Laure bring soup to Hubert Bazin, he is not in his alcove behind the library. They come again the next morning and the morning after that, but he has not returned. No one can say where he went. At the next meeting of the ladies' resistance, only half the group shows up. They sense danger, and Madame Ruelle suggests they take a break from their activities.

Everything Poisoned

Young instructors at Schulpforta are being replaced by elderly townsmen, all of them in some way broken, unfit for fighting. The younger men are being sent to war. Throughout the school are signs that all is not well with the Reich. The flow of electricity to run lights and clocks is irregular. The showers and bunkrooms are often icy. Few cars are seen on the school grounds as all gasoline is going to the war effort. The school food is often wormy. New cadet uniforms are made of cheaper material. The cadets may no longer practice their marksmanship with live ammunition. Every six or seven days, two casualty assistance officers come to the refectory, where the cadets are gathered to eat, to inform a boy that his father has been killed. Yet all reports over the radio proclaim that victory is near.

In March 1942 Dr. Hauptmann informs Werner that he is leaving the school. Hauptmann has been called to Berlin to continue his work there.


Two French policemen visit Number 4 rue Vauborel one evening. They have news of Marie-Laure's father. He has been convicted of theft and conspiracy and forced to do labor. They do not know which prison holds him. They ask to see the two letters smuggled out to Marie-Laure, and then to search the house. They do not say what they are looking for.

Marie-Laure does not trust the men. Their French is good, but their loyalties may not lie with France. Their search reveals nothing. Most importantly, they do not find the radio in the attic. When they come across three Free French flags rolled up in a closet, they advise Etienne and Madame not to keep them. Etienne burns the flags after the policemen leave and forbids Madame Manec to involve Marie-Laure in any further schemes.

Untitled (Letter from Werner)

A heavily censored letter from Werner to Jutta hints that all is not well at the school. One of the lines that can be read says, "Frederick used to say there is no such thing as free will." He ends by saying he hopes Jutta will one day understand, closing with the words "Sieg heil." ("Hail victory," the Nazi salute.)

The Frog Cooks

The relationship between Etienne and Madame Manec has become strained. She still takes Marie-Laure to the beach most mornings, and then she disappears for most of the day. One evening she is later than usual, and Etienne inquires if she sank any U-boats today or blew up any German tanks. In reply Madame asks if he knows what happens to a frog that is dropped in boiling water. "It jumps out," she explains. "But ... put the frog in a pot of cool water and then slowly bring it to a boil ... the frog cooks."


Werner is summoned to the commandant's office to receive an assignment. Dr. Hauptmann has arranged for him to be sent to a special technology division of the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces). For the assignment to be approved, the doctor has had to manufacture a story. He claims Werner has been attending Schulpforta under false pretenses; that he is 18, not 16. The doctor, however, has assured the commandant that no disciplinary action is necessary. Werner will be eager to offer his skills to the Reich.


In the spring Madame Manec becomes very ill with pneumonia. The doctor prescribes rest, aspirin, and aromatic violet comfits. Both Marie-Laure and Etienne nurse her day and night, but in Madame's voice, when she speaks, the girl can hear water, like "atolls and archipelagoes and lagoons and fjords."

Untitled (Letter from Papa)

Marie-Laure receives another letter from Papa. Two of the parcels she has sent him have gotten through, but he has been allowed to keep only the toothbrush and comb. He is now working in a cardboard factory. He dreams of returning to the museum. Finally, he reminds her of the birthday gifts he used to give her and tells her to look inside Etienne's house if she wishes to understand why things have turned out as they have.


Von Rumpel is receiving treatments for his cancer, but they leave him sick, weak, and disoriented. A bundle arrives from Vienna containing everything a librarian there could find on the Sea of Flames. This information reminds him, "The keeper of the stone will live forever." He remembers his father's advice: "See obstacles as opportunities, Reinhold. See obstacles as inspiration."


It is June, nearly two years exactly since the invasion of France. Madame Manec's health is better, and she promises Etienne that she will no longer "fight the war by herself." However, in an outing to the market, Marie-Laure is certain that Madame exchanges envelopes with a woman she stops to greet.

Later she and Madame stretch out in a field of Queen Anne's lace east of Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure listens to the drone of bees, wasps, hoverflies, and a passing dragonfly. For a bit she and Madame talk about God and Etienne's lack of belief. Then Marie-Laure asks, "Don't you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don't you ever want proof?" Madame tells her she must never stop believing. Then they talk of heaven and what it will be like. At last Madame says contentedly, "I expect heaven is a lot like this."


Werner has taken the train to Berlin to visit Frederick. The city seems gloomier and dirtier than before, though it may be that he is seeing it with different eyes. The maid, Fanni, lets him into the apartment. Frederick's mother is there but does not stay. She tells Werner that her son will not recognize him, and asks that he not try to make Frederick remember.

It has been a year since Frederick's beating, and he will never recover. He sits drooling at a table in his room. On the table are sheets of paper covered with thick, clumsy spirals "drawn by a heavy hand." When Werner greets his friend, he shows no recognition, and his eyes do not focus. Werner tells Frederick he is leaving Schulpforta and is being sent to the front. "You look pretty," Frederick responds. "You look very pretty, Mama."


In late June 1942 Madame Manec suffers a relapse. Though Etienne, the doctor, and Madame's friends try, they cannot save her. By two in the afternoon, she is dead. A man comes to carry her away in a horse cart. "Madame is dead," Etienne whispers.


Previously the reader has witnessed war from the perspective of refugees from Paris and residents of occupied Saint-Malo. Part 5 opens with a glimpse of civilian life in Berlin. These showy impressions, providing another perspective on Hitler's Germany, suggest the city's glittering vitality masks something noxious.

Berlin is the largest city Werner has ever seen, and it is enshrined in his mind as the capital of science. Frederick's home is a haven of luxury. Werner is treated to enormous quantities of food and drink and taken to the kind of restaurant he could only dream of before. Yet underneath all the hustle and bustle, the gaiety and lights, something unwholesome lurks. People—typified by Frederick's mother—laugh and drink too much, ask no questions, and maintain a constant, bright stream of activity, as if to keep from thinking or seeing what they have become part of.

The character of Frau Schwartzenberger shines a light on the ugliest element in this toxic environment: anti-Semitism. It is rampant in Nazi Germany, and the woman is a Jew living in a location coveted by Frederick's mother. She is quite frank in telling a friend that the Jewish "crone" will be gone by year's end. Frau Schwartzenberger already must wear the yellow star of David identifying her as Jewish and separating her (like all Jews) from the rest of the population. Aware of her perilous position, she fearfully enters the lift with Frederick and Werner, though the boys demonstrate no animosity. In fact, Frederick is warmly polite and Werner merely curious. Yet this incident and the mother's comment do not bode well for the Jewish woman and allude to the fate in store for millions of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Werner's visit to Frederick's home highlights important values the boys share. Both love science and respect authentic intellectuals and scientists, whether German or foreign born. Both have been drawn to a branch of science, and for information, each has turned to non-German experts in their field. Werner, most notably, has looked to the French Professor; Frederick to the naturalist Audubon. And finally, both boys dislike Schulpforta but can see no way out. Frederick must remain there to please his parents; Werner must remain to escape Zollverein.

These shared values are the binding basis of the boys' friendship. However, the torture of a prisoner at the school reveals a difference in their moral character that drives them apart. Events at Schulpforta illustrate the ever-deepening corruptive influence of Nazi ideology on the cadets, and Werner learns how entrenched he has become in a military system that feeds on youth. When the time comes to douse the dying prisoner with a bucket of water, Werner deplores the act but does not hesitate. Self-interest dictates that he dutifully follow orders. On the other hand, Frederick stays true to his moral values and courageously refuses to douse the man. In consequence, conditions at the school worsen for Frederick. His response is equally selfless and courageous. To protect Werner, he openly severs their friendship. Werner's response to the moment is weak, though at a gut level, he feels that everything he loves is at risk; "that something huge and empty is about to devour them all."

Although Frederick is a strong believer in destiny, he makes a conscious decision to challenge fate. Toward the end of Part 5, the reader learns the terrible consequences of his choices. Though their life paths separate, Werner and Frederick's shared values will prove to be a strong emotional connection that time and war cannot break. This link will provide Werner a means of making reparations that, in turn, will transform Frederick's life once again.

Another emotional connection that cannot be broken exists between Werner and Jutta. Werner's involvement at the Nazi training school drives a wedge between them, but the bonds of love are not severed. Jutta is never far from Werner's thoughts. In his memories of her, she often serves as a moral constant against which he feels compelled to measure his actions and choices.

In Part 5 the reader begins to grasp that Werner's gift for mechanics has been used by Dr. Hauptmann and will be misused by the Reich. Hauptmann has hijacked the boy's skills and intelligence for his personal advancement. He is therefore frightened when called to Berlin in recognition of the transceiver device he is presumed to have developed. He knows that without Werner, he would have accomplished nothing and may yet be found out.

Shortly after Hauptmann's transfer, Werner sees he is thoroughly trapped by the system. He has tried and failed to get out, and is subsequently shipped off to the front. The commandant who issues the order states that Werner will be offering his skills to the Reich. This foreshadows the use of Werner's radio tracking device to hunt down enemy transmissions and eliminate the sender. What had seemed like a game at Schulpforta will become deadly reality.

In the meanwhile, Marie-Laure has demonstrated the resiliency that will continue to help her as conditions deteriorate in Saint-Malo. For a time, she is angry at everyone and everything, including her blindness, for failing to find and rescue her father. But even as her anger peaks, she begins to study the model of Saint-Malo in earnest, learning its streets and landmarks. She is determined to exert her independence and find her own way in the world. This, she knows, would please her father and is a way of connecting with him in his absence.

Thanks to Madame Manec, Marie-Laure at last is permitted to go outside. The girl finds comfort and renewed confidence in excursions to the beach. These outings become a retreat from fear and worry over the whereabouts of her Papa. They also reawaken her love of mollusks, as the beach provides a treasure trove of sea shells for her clever fingers to find and examine. She brings samples to Etienne, which strengthens their bond while renewing the old man's connection to the physical world he once knew so well. The shells and other beach treasures stir memories of his childhood, when that world was safe and free of ghastly hallucinations.

Part 5 also introduces the character of Hubert Bazin. He is homeless and terribly disfigured by the war, a goblin-like man in appearance. But to Marie-Laure, who cannot see, he is an intriguing storyteller and her guide to the wondrous grotto beneath the ramparts of Saint-Malo. The fairytale-like cave, with its walls and rocks teeming with mollusks, captivates Marie-Laure. And like a storybook enchanter, Bazin gives her the key to the secret kingdom. This suggests that the grotto will play an important role later in the novel.

Von Rumpel's storyline continues with the added layer of his illness. He begins to associate the Sea of Flames with a cure. The visitors to Etienne's home in Saint-Malo suggest that von Rumpel has picked up a trail that will lead him to Marie-Laure and connects back to his presence in the city in Part 4.

The invisible lines that will eventually connect Marie-Laure and Werner draw closer when Madame Manec organizes a Saint-Malo resistance group. It will employ radio to pass messages to the outside world. This foreshadows a time when Werner will be ordered to find and destroy the source of enemy transmissions in the city. It also foreshadows a time when Etienne and his attic transmitter will become vital to the resistance movement.

Finally, the association between the Sea of Flames and misfortune continues with the death of Madame Manec. The reader knows—though Marie-Laure is as yet unaware—that the girl possesses the diamond and may be under its curse.

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