Powerful Paragraphs

Powerful Paragraph #2

Tuesday after Tuesday she fails. She leads her father on six-block detours that leave her angry and frustrated and farther from home than when they started. But in the winter of her eighth year, to Marie-Laure’s surprise, she begins to get it right. She runs her fingers over the model in their kitchen, counting miniature benches, trees, lampposts, doorways. Every day some new detail emerges—each storm drain, park bench, and hydrant in the model has its counterpart in the real world.

Marie-Laure brings her father closer to home before making a mistake. Four blocks three blocks two. And one snowy Tuesday in March, when he walks her to yet another new spot, very close to the banks of the Seine, spins her around three times, and says, “Take us home,” she realizes that, for the first time since they began this exercise, dread has not come trundling up from her gut.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

These two paragraphs describe a little blind girl learning to make her way through the city of Paris by memorizing a model of the city created by her father. They are powerful both for the language and for the emotion evoked. Marie-Laure is a child learning to survive while blind in a seeing world. The rich detail in the descriptions helps us as readers to picture surroundings that she cannot see. Yet her emotional landscape–which we know must be filled with overwhelm and fear–remains very subtle in the language of the paragraphs. “Tuesday after Tuesday she fails,” but when she finally succeeds, she simply notices that “dread has not come trundling up from her gut.” Trundling is a great word choice here. It’s a verb carrying the descriptive weight of the sentence. The overall image is particularly powerful because we are not hit over the head with it. We are not asked to pity her or fear for her. We are told about her normal state of dread only by its absence. That is great writing.