books like all the light we cannot see

Six Books to Read if You Loved All the Light We Cannot See

books like all the light we cannot see

Even if you haven’t read it, chances are you’ve at least heard of All the Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr’s novel took the book world by storm over the past year, flying off shelves over Christmas and clogging up library hold lists for months. If you’re one of the many who read and loved it, you may be looking for another novel to sweep you off your feet. Here are six books that have the potential to do just that while looking at war through a slightly different lens.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

After being arrested during the siege of Leningrad, Lev and Kolya attempt to escape execution by trying to find a dozen eggs to use in the wedding cake of a high-ranking Soviet official. Though the task seems impossible, the novel follows the pair as they journey through the city on their mission to freedom.

The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert

Isaac Helger’s parents fled Lithuania for South Africa after the First World War, seeking refuge from the same horror that left his mother’s face permanently scarred. The family settles into a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Johannesburg, but Isaac’s mother can only dream of her son earning money to save the rest of her family from dangers on the horizon in Lithuania. Faced with this task, Isaac’s life becomes a series of encounters, partnerships, relationships and secrets aimed solely at success.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Eight-year-old Havaa has been left alone in her small war-torn village in Chechnya after her father’s capture by Russian forces. Her neighbor, Akhmed, takes her to the town’s shell of a hospital, where he makes an agreement with the remaining doctor, Sonja, to help him care for the young girl. The novel weaves between 2004 and 1994 to trace the roots of the Chechen Wars and the personal histories of its characters, which wind up being more connected than they realize.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

In a desperate attempt to earn leave from WWII’s Eastern front, German soldier Peter Faber chooses to marry Katharina Spinell based only on her photograph. Though they are married on opposite ends of the continent, within weeks Peter has earned ten days of honeymoon leave to spend with Katharina in Berlin. Surprisingly, ten days proves long enough for the pair to develop a passionate love too soon torn apart when Peter is required to return to Russia. In Peter’s absence, Katharina and her parents learn both the risks and benefits of inching close to the upper ranks of the Nazi Party hierarchy.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

As a thirteen year-old girl, Briony Tallis witnesses a moment between her sister and the son of a servant that she misreads, leading her to accuse him of a crime and shift their lives forever. The novel follows Briony, her sister and Robbie through World War II and traces the impact of the crime on each of their lives.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy

Told in a series of memories by a string of strangers in years spanning from 1939 to 2010, The Illusion of Separateness centers on soldiers wounded during World War II and the sacrifices they make. The novel traces the echoes of their choices through the second half of the century in distinct voices connected by subtle lines.

Have you read any books you would recommend to fans of All the Light We Cannot See?



  • I’ve had The Lion Seeker on my desk forever!! This may be the impetus to get me to read it. But first up, The Fishermen.

  • I didn’t make it past the sample of All the Light You Cannot See, but I did read City of Thieves years ago and liked it! The Undertaking also sounds interesting. And, I’ve been thinking I should try Atonement, but I haven’t liked the other 2 books of his that Ive read (Sweet Tooth and The Children Act), so have been dragging my feet a bit.

    • The Great Catsby

      I also haven’t felt really compelled to read ATLYCS, however City of Theives is in my top 10 favorites of all time. Maybe I should give Doerr another shot though.

  • Most of these are on my list, including All the Light We Cannot See. I read Atonement a long time ago, and I found it devastating. I intentionally haven’t seen the movie.
    I like the sound of The Illusion of Separateness…

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I’ve read half of these (Atonement, Constellation, and Illusion) and really liked each of them. I guess the other three need a place on my tbr list! Thanks for enabling our All The Light We Cannot See love! :)

  • Well, I haven’t read All The Light We Cannot See, but it’s definitely interesting to see the books you’ve recommended with it! I loved Atonement; the others are new to me, but they are all very interesting. Thanks for sharing this list, Shannon.

  • I still haven’t read this, which is really sad, because I won the audiobook during last year’s Armchair BEA. And even scarier, I haven’t read anything else on this list sooooo off to the TBR list I go! ;)

  • I’ve been wanting to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena ever since it came out… not really sure what I’m waiting for (other than that I’m currently reading A Little Life, and am finding myself slow consumed from withing).

  • Great suggestions! I think I need to re-read Atonement. I got stuck in it and lost some of the threads!

  • Since you mentioned Atonement and The Illusion of Separateness, I really think I should probably go back and finish All the Light. We’ll see if I do!

  • Love this! I just picked up a copy of Vital Phenomena, so I am excited to read it. I would maybe add The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah…she did the same short chapters and going back and forth between narrators (sisters) dealing with war in Vichy France.

  • Great recommendations! Atonement and Constellation are spot on. (Also, I just saw that Anthony Marra has a new book coming out this fall, and I am sooo excited!)

  • City of Thieves is Terrific. And so is Atonement. Now I have to get to the rest ….

  • I just finished the Doerr novel which was good. I loved Atonement and City of Thieves. Both excellent. I need to read the Marra book (though I need a break from War at the moment). Maybe a person would also like Sophie’s Choice. gulp.

  • Miles Away

    So David Benioff who wrote City Of Thieves went off to produce Game Of Thrones !! Styling all the way.