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  • joannayeldham

'... a voice on the radio offering a loom...'

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

by Anthony Duerr


This novel explores the impact of the Second World War on a French teenage girl and an orphaned German teenage boy, each of whom is drawn to become involved in ways over which they have no control. They boy, Werner, lives in an orphanage run by the kindly Frau Elena. One day he discovers a broken radio receiver which he repairs using discarded parts of old household items. On tuning the resurrected radio, Werner comes across a Frenchman broadcasting science and nature-themed programmes for children. The Frenchman's warm voice and the content of his broadcasts have a great impact on Werner in his pre-war world:

'A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena's fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar and trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams.'

I love Duerr's use of a loom as a metaphor for the conditions in which Werner's dreams take form. A loom holds in place tightly-strung warp threads around which weft threads are woven. Without a loom to secure the warp threads, all the threads would be slack; prone to unravel under the slightest pressure. The Frenchman's voice acts as a loom by becoming a secure, holding frame within which Werner's curiosity can flourish. It embodies the certainty of benevolent adult authority; and experience of the outside world. In taking the time to broadcast to children, the voice lets Werner know that he, as a child, matters. There is a safety in knowing you matter.

Within this dependable framework Werner is free to embrace news of an exciting world beyond the confines of the orphanage, and give free rein to his mind as it plays with the threads of his own imagination.

 

If any of us are to let our minds wander creatively it is essential that we feel securely held. If we are preoccupied with concerns of safety - whether physical or emotional - then we are not standing on the solid ground necessary to allow our imaginations to take flight, secure in the knowledge of a safe return.

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