The Reader has garnished my shelves now for about three years and I have finally gotten a chance to enjoy it. If anything it’s made me want to review all the unread books on my shelves and to get cracking on them. This novel has been talked about here and there over the years but I’ve never heard any of my book buddies talk about it. I feel it’s a hidden jewel that everybody should try to possess.
Michael Berg becomes ill one day on his way home from school when Hanna picks him up and cleans him off. She is twice his age and he is only fifteen years old. Michael continues to go back to visit Hanna and they carry on a love affair for a while. As time goes on, the complexities of Hanna start to show, but Michael is virtually incapable of any analysis of this mysterious woman and her ways, who awakens his sexuality, his senses, as he becomes a man.
The novel is told in first person which makes it personal, as if a friend is telling his story. The narrator is a very reliable source because he’s very honest about some very personal private emotions that sometimes aren’t too flattering. The Reader is erotic, melancholic, hopeful, and infuriating. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that put me through so many profound emotions. At times I felt like a voyeur. Schlink was a master at writing this story because it contains all the aspects of what’s needed to make a perfectly balanced. Nothing is done for sensationalism. Every scene has its reason for existing.
Schlink also did an excellent job exploring how the generation of World War II born during or right after the war must have felt and how the collective conscience tries to adapt. The guilt was terribly heavy and doubt was looming over friends but especially family – wondering to what extent they had participated in the war or to what degree did their silence cost lives. It’s terrifying having had to face such heavy actions. This theme is carried right through the book when Michael deals with different characters, his father included.
The Reader was translated into 37 languages and won a few awards including the Hans Fallada Prize (awarded every two years to a young author from the German speaking world since 1981) in 1988, while being the first German book to top the The New York Times bestselling books list. The film adaptation lead to Kate Winslet winning an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz. Bernhard Schlink has written many books including non-fiction and crime novels. He was born in Bethel, Germany in 1944 although he was brought up in Heidelberg and worked as a professor of law at the University of Berlin and later became a judge. The Reader was his first novel that was translated into English in 1997. Watch the link below to find out more about how and why he wrote The Reader. He’s a very interesting speaker.
Title: The Reader
Genre: Historical Fiction/German literature/World War II Holocaust
Published: 1995 – 1997 translated to English
Edition: Vintage International
My rating: * * * * 1/2