“In writing All the Light There Was, I wasn’t interested in outsized heroism; I was interested in small defiant acts that make dignity and integrity possible in the face of a brutal occupation. It was a time when there was very little light, literally because of blackouts and shortages, and figuratively because of the repression and violence that accompanied collaborationist and Nazi rule.” (Nancy Kricorian, author)
“All the Light There Was” is a wartime romance depicting the plight of the Armenians exiled to France after the massacre of 1915. Maral Pegorian is only fourteen when the German army invades Paris. This is the story of how her family survives and copes with the dangers of living in Occupied Paris during the Second World War.
Maral (the Armenian for “Maria”), her brother Missak (Michael) and her parents are close friends with the Kacherian family.
The reader is caught up in the events of a small family in a suburb of Paris during the war. When Zaven (Stephen)and Barkev (Bernard) Kacherian go into hiding to avoid the German conscription, we fear for them along with Maral. All the way through this novel we are pulling for Zaven to make it through, along with his brother Barkev.
“Have you heard anything?” I asked.
Auntie Shushan pulled a note from her pocket and handed it to me. “Someone slid this under the door last night.”
Written on the card were the words ‘Don’t worry. We are fine. B & Z’.
“That’s not Zaven’s handwriting.”
”It’s Barkev’s. Telling a mother not to worry is like telling her not to breathe.”
I was so impressed when Maral’s family ignore all danger to themselves and take in Claire, a five year old Jewish girl whose family is deported.
“One evening after Claire had been with us for several weeks, the child broke her characteristic silence at dinner, saying, “Mama told me that when the baby comes, she would wrap it in a blanket and let me hold it in my lap if I sit in the big chair. Papa said when the baby comes, I will help Mama like a big girl.”
“You are a very good girl,” I replied.
“When do you think they will come get me?” Claire asked.
We all looked uneasily at one another.
Finally Missak said, “Your mama and papa have gone on a long trip by train. It may take them a while to get back to Paris. But they asked us so send you for a visit to your aunt Myriam in Nice.”
A fast read for me, I found this novel hard to put down. It wasn’t difficult reading and the plot moves quickly.
“All the Light There Was” illustrates through fictional characters perseverance in difficult times, stoicism through hardship (just getting enough food with rationing and shortages was a challenge), faithfulness to family and friends (and sometimes, strangers), in difficult times, and courage.
Along with Maral and her family, we feel like celebrating when the Allies land in France:
“Finally, on Thursday evening, the electricity came on again, and my father turned on the radio and twisted the dial until he found a voice. we heard an announcement from something calling itself the Radio of the French Nation saying that the first French troops led by General Leclerc had entered the capital…By Saturday evening, the liberation had been accomplished. That night all the churches of the city set their bells ringing. My father, Missak, and I headed to join a crowd at the Parc de Belleville, where we watched celebratory fireworks showering over the Hotel de Ville.
The following day we heard on the radio that General de Gaulle was on the Champs Elysees, and then the American soliders, who would soon be on their way to their next battle, streamed into Paris.”
The author writes about her research in this article from the “Armenian Weekly”:
“After I had read through an enormous stack of books—historical studies, memoirs, novels, and collections of letters—about what the French called Les Années Noires (The Dark Years), I planned a research trip to Paris. I wanted to walk the streets of Belleville, the neighborhood where the Pegorians lived. I wanted to visit the Lycée Victor Hugo where Maral was a student. Most importantly, I wanted to talk with Armenians who had lived through the Occupation.
While I was in Paris, my friend Hagop Papazian volunteered to be my “fixer.” He located an Armenian woman who was seven years old when the German troops had marched down the Rue de Belleville. She told me how her family had briefly hidden one of her schoolmates whose family had been arrested during the infamous Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews in July 1942. from http://armenianweekly.com/2012/12/19/…
If you like World War 2 fiction, don’t miss this one.