Anthony Doerr's Tour de Force

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I had the great pleasure of getting to know Tony Doerr about a decade ago. He was freshly back from a year in Rome, and we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. I convinced him to write several essays for me—at the time I was the executive editor at Orion magazine. He submitted jewels, gorgeously crafted pieces of writing about space and time that were so far beyond most of the material I worked with. His essay on what the Hubble telescope was revealing about deep space still haunts me.

I devoured what he had written: his stories in "The Shell Collector" (more jewels), and "Four Seasons in Rome," a love letter to that city that I read to myself and then read aloud to my then-pregnant wife, in its entirety, over a course of Sunday mornings.

Occasionally I pestered him for another essay, but he put me off, saying we was working on a novel "about World War II." I didn't think much of it. When the novel made its debut this year I bought a copy out of loyalty (hard cover, no less -- I like to go old-school), and saved it for the perfect time. I found that time on a transatlantic flight, and ended up staying awake all the way to Africa, completely bewitched not only by his ability to craft language like a jeweler (serendipitously, a jewel features centrally in the plot) but also by the intricacy, delicacy, and power of his plot and characters. "All The Light We Cannot See" is the sort of book every author desires and dreads. It is the greatest thing he's ever written. And that's exactly the problem, for inevitably Tony will be faced -- certainly already is faced -- with the terrifying question of "what next?"

So many writers fail to answer that question well, even very good writers. Tony is young and he has a long road ahead of him. Given the extraordinary mileposts he has placed along it so far, I expect he will produce yet more work worth waiting for.