All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Part 7 : August 1942 | Summary




At dawn a "dangerously underweight corporal" named Neumann Two—to distinguish him from the driver, Neumann One—comes to pick up Werner at the school. They walk to the village. After the corporal gets something to eat, he gives Werner "some crumpled and filthy reichsmarks" (currency). From Schulpforta, the two take a train through Leipzig and get off at a switching station west of Lodz. All along the platform, a company of soldiers lie sleeping. Their uniforms are faded.

Several trains scheduled to pass through the station do not arrive. It is well after dark when a train approaches. However, it does not stop, and car after car rumbles past. Most are flatcars loaded with people and odd-looking sacks piled up along the front of the cars. "Prisoners," Neumann Two explains. But Werner can see that these people are not in uniform and look like scarecrows being transported west "to be staked in some terrible garden." With a shock, he realizes the walls of sacks are in fact walls of corpses.

The Wardrobe

For four days following the death of Madame Manec, Etienne remains holed up in his study. During this time, Madame's friends make sure Marie-Laure is well cared for. On the fourth day, Etienne emerges, thanks the women for their help, and then sends them away. After securing the door, he next turns out the lights and retrieves an electric saw from the cellar beneath the kitchen floor. Climbing the stairs with Marie-Laure in his wake, Etienne goes into his brother's bedroom on the sixth floor. Working throughout the day, he cuts a rectangle in the back of the wardrobe and another through the door leading to the attic. Then he works to hook up the net of electronic wires that will bring the radio transmitter to life.

Later Etienne asks Marie-Laure how messages were delivered to Madame Manec. With the girl's help, he intends to continue her resistance work. Marie-Laure explains that she goes to Madame Ruelle's bakery and asks for "one ordinary loaf." When the baker asks "And how is your uncle?" Marie-Laure now will reply, "My uncle is well, thank you." This will tell Madame Ruelle that Etienne is willing to help them. Then Marie-Laure pays for the loaf with a ration ticket and brings it home. Etienne urges her to go to the bakery and come straight home.


A train takes Werner and Neumann Two through Poland into Russia. The train stops at dusk at a ruined village, and Werner is delivered to "a musclebound captain" and shown to a radio truck. It's unwashed, riddled with bullet holes on one side, and smells of "clay, spilled diesel mixed with something putrid." The truck contains radio equipment as well as compasses and maps, and in a battered case, "two of the transceivers he designed with Dr. Hauptmann."

Werner studies the equipment, assesses the problems, and then he gets to work. It is dawn when "a giant" approaches the truck and says, "Pfennig." It is Volkheimer.

One Ordinary Loaf

Marie-Laure has returned with her first loaf from the bakery. Inside is a tiny paper scroll with numbers. She and Etienne must wait until dark to transmit them. In the meantime, Etienne wires the house with an alarm attached to the outer gate. When it is opened, a bell rings on the third floor, in the attic, and on the gate. Next he builds a false back into the wardrobe that can be opened and closed from both sides.

That night Etienne starts up the radio and transmits the numbers cooked into the bread. Then he shuts down the machine. He asks Marie-Laure if she remembers Madame Manec's story of the boiling frog. "I wonder," he says, "who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?"


Volkheimer tells Werner his job is to track down the Russian partisans who are using radio transmissions to coordinate attacks on the trains. In the truck they head out over roads that are little more than cattle trails. With them are the engineer, Bernd, and Neumann One and Two. Every so often they stop, and Werner sets up his equipment to scan the spectra of radio signals for "any voice that is not allowed."

This hunt for signals is far more difficult than the hunt back at Schulpforta. That was a game. Werner knew that Volkheimer's transmitter was broadcasting a signal. He could guess the signal's frequency. Out here he has no idea when, where, or if transmitters are transmitting. Day after day Werner picks up nothing, and Volkheimer grows more uneasy.


Several months have passed. Etienne continues to broadcast the mysterious numbers, always at night. He has tried to crack their code, but to no avail. Nevertheless, when he bends his mouth to the microphone to read them off, he feels confident and alive.

He has taken to playing a bit of classical music before the broadcasts. This night he is playing Vivaldi. Marie-Laure, who has been sleeping, is awakened by the music. Etienne takes her hand, and together they dance beneath the attic's low, sloping roof.

In the pleasure of the moment, Etienne lets the song play too long, leaving the transmitter's antenna up and dimly visible against the sky. But watching Marie-Laure, graceful and alive as she dances, reminds Etienne of better days "in what seems like lifetimes ago." He thinks, "This ... is what the numbers mean." This is why he risks transmitting them.

On the streets below rides the "bony figure of Death," a German with a list of addresses in his hand. He looks at the officers, the perfumer's rooms, and Etienne's house. Etienne thinks, "Pass us by, Horseman."


Werner sets up a transceiver on a dusty track flanked by miles of dying sunflowers. Bernd sets up the second out in the field. Their hunt has brought them to a desolate region of Ukraine. Suddenly, the monotonous static is broken by Russian voices. Werner quickly relays the channel to Bernd, who finds and uses it to measure the angle of the transmission. Werner uses this information to pinpoint the transmitter: One and a half kilometers, north northwest.

Crashing through the sunflowers, the truck speeds toward the coordinates. Volkheimer passes out weapons. Neumann One calls out the distances. A pretty cottage comes into view. The truck stops, and Volkheimer, Bernd, and Neumann Two proceed on foot. Werner is still listening to the broadcast when gunshots come through the headphones. Soon Volkheimer returns and instructs Neumann One to set fire to the house. He instructs Werner to salvage the equipment.

Inside are two dead Russians. Their equipment is inferior, but Werner loads it onto the truck. He thinks about the march of events that have led to this moment. Recollecting something Dr. Hauptmann once told him, he reflects on how his interests as a scientist have intersected with those of his time.


Sergeant Major von Rumpel, his treatments completed, feels weak as he approaches a new assignment. In a warehouse outside of Lodz, in Poland, thousands of jewels—emeralds, sapphires, rubies, diamonds—are waiting to be evaluated. Most of the diamonds must still be pried from their settings in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and cuff links. As one of the few Aryan diamond experts in the Reich, von Rumpel will work with a team of three other men in 10-hour shifts to pry stones from their setting, wash them, weigh each, and assess and record each stone's clarity. Von Rumpel does not have to ask where this wealth of jewels came from.


Months have passed since Madame Manec's death. Marie-Laure continues to visit the bakery and ask for "one ordinary loaf, please." Sometimes there is a scroll inside; sometimes there is not. Before returning home, Marie-Laure visits the grotto where she can listen to the sound of the sea and the snails that cover the walls as they "suck and shift and squeak." She thinks of her father in his cell, of Madame Manec in her field of Queen Anne's lace, and of her uncle trapped in the chilly house by his memories.


Beginning in January 1943, Werner is increasingly successful in his hunt for illegal transmissions. The truck roves occupied territories with familiar names like Prague, Ljubljana, and Minsk—names of places he and Jutta recorded in their log of radio signals and broadcasts.

For Werner, locating the source of a transmission is simply a problem to be solved. The working conditions are not pleasant, but the work "is cleaner, more mechanical." It is "a war waged through the air," and the signals are little more than needles in a haystack that he must find.

Volkheimer is also on the hunt that winter for warm clothing. He scans any group of prisoners they pass, hoping to spy someone as big as he from whom he can take mittens, a shirt, a coat, or shoes that fit.

Months pass, during which the team of hunters receives no mail. Werner does not write to Jutta.

The Messages

By summer 1943, every house in occupied Saint-Malo must have a list of its occupants posted on the door. Marie-Laure continues to visit the bakery. One morning Madame Ruelle slips her a folded piece of paper with the request that Etienne read its contents, too. It reads, "Monsieur Droguet wants his daughter in Saint-Coulomb to know that he is recovering well."

More notes come over the next few weeks. They announce births, deaths, illness, and the like. But Etienne cannot fathom their secret messages. He pictures a benign ghost of Madame Manec outside the house. Two sparrows come to her, and Madame Manec tucks them protectively in her coat.


Sergeant Major von Rumpel has been summoned to Loudenvielle in southern France to inspect some stolen jewels. They belong to a prominent person with ties to the Natural History Museum in Paris. At the police station, von Rumpel and the police captain examine one jewel in particular: a pear-cut diamond.

As von Rumpel waits for the captain to finish his own inspection, he entertains visions of the Führermuseum and can almost feel the faint power of the stone that promises to erase his illness. His treatments are over, but the nausea and the pain linger.

The stone proves to be a fake, but von Rumpel considers this progress. There are only two more stones to be found, and one will be real.


In December 1943, residents of Saint-Malo have no heat and only green wood to burn. Food is scarce. Marie-Laure spends a great deal of time in the realm of memory when she was six and could still see. Everywhere there was color and there was food; Paris seemed like a vast kitchen. Now the world seems gray, and filled with gray quiet and gray nervous tension. Only for the short time when Etienne switches on his radio is there color. When the radio switches off, the gray rushes back in.


Werner is very ill with a fever as 1943 becomes 1944. He has not written to Jutta in nearly a year. Still he does his job and continues to find illegal transmissions. However, even as the team continues to scour the countryside for signals, the German army is in retreat. The truck passes through smoking, ruined villages and by shattered walls and frozen corpses. The lack of order conflicts with the professed goals of the Reich to impose order, to pull up disorder by the roots.

The Third Stone

The Gestapo has located a third stone north of Paris, in a chateau outside of Amiens. It was hidden there by the chief of security at the Natural History Museum in Paris. Von Rumpel is notified. To his disappointment, this stone, like the other two, is the work of the diamond cutter Dupont.

Now that he has located all three fakes, von Rumpel wonders what sort of man would be chosen to carry the real Sea of Flames. He is desperate to find the stone. It seems "all his luck is spent." His tumor is growing again. Germany is in retreat in Russia, the Ukraine, and Italy. Soon, men like von Rumpel "will be handed rifles and sent into the fire."

The Bridge

A bridge in a village south of Saint-Malo is blown up as a German truck crosses it, killing six German soldiers. In the aftermath police go door to door, ordering all able-bodied men to come out for a day's work. Etienne obtains a doctor's note excusing him from this duty.

Soon after, Madame Ruelle passes along another code in a bread loaf, though she has heard the Germans blame the attack on antioccupation radio broadcasts. Etienne transmits the message but is troubled. He recalls the death toll of the previous war: 16 million. "March the dead in a single-file line," he tells Marie-Laure, "and for eleven days and eleven nights, they'd walk past our door." This is not a game they are playing, but life and death.

Rue des Patriarches

Von Rumpel has located Daniel LeBlanc's former residence near the Natural History Museum. It is locked up, but someone sends money regularly to the landlady to cover the rent. Upon entering, he sees the apartment has been searched. Nevertheless, von Rumpel searches it once more to learn what he can about the locksmith and solve the puzzle of where he has hidden the stone.

He soon discerns that the locksmith has a blind daughter, and his attention is drawn to the meticulously carved scale model of the neighborhood. He sees how the model of the apartment house he now stands in is smooth and worn from much handling. He discovers it lifts easily free of the model. Studying the little house, he finds a tiny keyhole in the bottom that suggests the model is a container. Unable to open it any other way, von Rumpel sets it on the floor and smashes it with his foot.

White City

Volkheimer, Werner, and the rest of the radio team are in Vienna, the White City. There are reports of resistance broadcasts coming out of a district called the Leopoldstadt. For five days nothing comes through Werner's transmitter but German propaganda broadcasts and pleas for supplies from German colonels. Werner senses "the fabric of the war tearing apart." He thinks the city's beautiful buildings are useless in the face of "sledges stacked with corpses."

At midmorning this day, the radio truck is parked by a garden while the team takes a break. Neumann One gives everyone haircuts. Later, as Werner monitors his transceiver and listens to nothing, he watches a little red-haired girl in a maroon cape play alone in the park, under the trees, as her mother watches from the corner. The girl is six or seven years old, with "big clear eyes that remind him of Jutta's." In a while the mother calls to the girl and the two disappear around the corner.

An hour later, Werner picks up something on his transceiver, tunes the second transceiver, and works out where the signal is coming from: an apartment house flanking the square. But the team finds nothing when they search, not even a simple radio. Volkheimer orders them to tear up floorboards. Werner looks over a bedroom clearly belonging to a woman. Then just as the sound of a single shot comes from the other bedroom, he spots a little maroon cape hanging on a doorknob. More shots follow.

He follows Volkheimer and the others into the bedroom where Neumann Two has shot the mother and little girl, who were hiding in the closet. "There's no radio here," Volkheimer says, and the team leaves. Back in the truck Werner leans over and "is sick between his shoes."

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

For Marie-Laure's 16th birthday, Etienne surprises her with a Braille copy of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, books one and two. She is both delighted and mystified. It has been three years and four months since her father left Saint-Malo. Books are generally not available and very expensive now. Etienne says that somehow the bookseller, Monsieur Hébrard, has obtained these. He explains, "You have made a lot of friends in this town, Marie-Laure."

Without delay, she settles down to read the story aloud from the beginning to her great-uncle.


A new garrison commander is now in charge of the Brittany district that includes Saint-Malo. On April 13, 1944, he sends a telegram to Berlin requesting assistance to locate and eliminate terrorist broadcasts in the area.


Through Werner's eyes, Part 7 provides a closer look at war from the perspective of soldiers at the front, resistance fighters, and prisoners. There are indications that the tide of war is turning against the Germans, and glimpses of the persecution of Jews. Also in this part, variations on the theme of connections show how people and events are drawing closer, setting the scene for the climax of the novel. At the same time, the reader learns how von Rumpel closes in on the location of the Sea of Flames. And finally, the consequences of choices are becoming evident to Werner, Etienne, and Marie-Laure.

The glorious war steamrolling toward victory depicted in Nazi propaganda is a far cry from reality. At the Russian front, Werner encounters lean, pale soldiers, exhausted and in shabby uniforms; exploded railcars and tracks; ruined houses; meager supplies; and hunger and cold. Moving with his team deeper into Russia and a relentless winter, he finds German divisions are in retreat. Frozen corpses litter the streets. Everywhere there is filth, disorder, and suffering. Nowhere does Werner find the splendid order promised by his instructors at Schulpforta.

These conditions indicate the changing tide of the war as Germany fights on too many fronts with diminishing troop numbers and resources. Other indications include Volkheimer's growing desperation to locate the enemy transmissions sabotaging the war effort. Lack of supplies is another sign that Germany is in trouble. Volkheimer must resort to stripping Russian prisoners of their mittens, coats, or shoes in order to have adequate clothing. The loss of shoes in particular most certainly condemns the victim to die from the cold. In this and his dispassionate execution of resistance fighters, Volkheimer demonstrates ignoble aspects of his nature that put self-preservation and blind duty before compassion or justice.

When the team zeros in on their first enemy transmission, they find simple peasants in torn pants and grimy jackets monitoring the transmitter. The men are not soldiers and are unarmed, yet they are killed all the same. While this scenario is repeated many times, Werner will always recall this first successful use of the transceiver he helped design and its shocking consequences. It will conjure a mental picture of sunflowers, vast fields of which the team cut through while hunting this prey. The memory of sunflowers was previewed in Part Zero's "Cellar" section, where roles are reversed and Werner and his comrades are being hunted by enemy fire.

In his first look at real war, Werner glimpses firsthand the inhumane treatment of prisoners, possibly Jews. A train hauling open flatcars is crammed with human scarecrows who have no choice but to sit on their dead. This example of brutality is matched by later images of Russian prisoners being herded half-clothed through the snow. These incidents recall the torture of the prisoner at Schulpforta in Part 5. That exercise now seems more than a yearly school ritual. It seems designed to create the brutal men, indifferent to human suffering, necessary in Hitler's Germany. This calls to mind Volkheimer's statement to Werner concerning the dead prisoner: "Decency does not matter to them." Readers might now wonder to whom this comment really applies—the Germans or their victims?

Werner tries to process all that has happened up to the first slaughter of resistance fighters. He thinks how everything in his life seems to have led to this event, beginning with the death of his father. The end result is dismally far from his bright dream to be a great scientist in Berlin. He finds the only way he can continue his work as ordered is to approach locating transmitters as an intellectual exercise. He must turn it back into the game it was at Schulpforta.

Several important connections are further developed in Part 7. In the case of Volkheimer and Werner, a connection is broken when the older cadet becomes a soldier is reestablished, either by coincidence or the authority of Dr. Hauptmann. Volkheimer resumes the role of Werner's protector, shielding Werner as best he can from hardship and tending him when he is ill. Other connections involve Etienne and Marie-Laure. In his support of the resistance, Etienne establishes invisible links to the free world and finds himself "at the nexus of a web of information." As months pass, he and Marie-Laure are brought closer by their shared involvement in the resistance movement. Etienne's growing affection for the girl connects what he is doing—the numbers he is transmitting—to his hope for a better future for her. He is also becoming a surrogate father to Marie-Laure, symbolized by his gift of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. This Braille book links back to Daniel and now connects the girl to her great-uncle.

A more sinister connection is being made by von Rumpel as his search for the Sea of Flames continues. The sergeant major begins to wonder about the clever series of locks that secured the diamond in the Natural History Museum. This leads him to investigate the locksmith, Daniel LeBlanc—the only remaining person who might be trusted with the diamond. With this connection made, von Rumpel edges closer to Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure, and the jewel.

The telegram at the end of Part 7 summons Werner and his comrades to Saint-Malo. The reader knows the enemy transmissions they are ordered to seek are coming from Etienne's transmitter. With this connection, the storylines of Werner and Marie-Laure are inching closer. For Werner, Marie-Laure, and Etienne, the consequences of their choices are coming into focus. Werner sees that he has contributed to a process that kills innocent people. The horrific death of an innocent child and her mother in Vienna will haunt him in the future. Etienne has a similar realization. The consequences of his transmissions are life and death; broadcasting numbers is not a game. He tries to impress this idea on Marie-Laure, who wants to be assured that, at least, they are the good guys.

Von Rumpel is sent to Lodz to examine a treasure trove of jewels. He briefly wonders where they all came from before recalling where he is. Then he realizes where they came from: Lodz's Jews. Lodz is located in central Poland. Before September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Lodz's Jewish population was one of the largest in Europe. In less than a month after German occupation of the city, plans for a ghetto in which to confine the Jews were initiated. By February 1940, the Jews were being herded into the small area with only a few minutes to pack up whatever they could carry. On May 1 the ghetto was closed and sealed. With the Jews now under tight control and fearing for their lives, it was easy to strip them of their valuables. They were then forced to pay for their food and housing with slave labor. Many were subsequently deported to death camps.

Finally, Madame Manec makes a brief appearance in this section as a benign ghost or guardian angel. It's perhaps significant that she appears to Etienne outside the house, indicating that it will be safe for him to venture out. The two sparrows that come to her possibly signify Etienne and Marie-Laure. Whether a memory or a spirit, Madame is still connected to Etienne and trying to protect him and his great-niece.

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