Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Reader

The Reader
By Bernhard Schlink
Translated from the German by
Carol Brown Janeway
Publisher: Vintage
Published: December 2008 (Mti Edition)
ISBN-13: 9780307473462
224 pages

Synopsis from the back-cover: When young Michael Berg falls ill on his way home from school, he is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover, enthralling him with her passion, but puzzling him with her odd silences. Then she disappears. Michael next sees Hanna when she is on trial for a hideous crime, refusing to defend herself. As he watches, he begins to realize that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

First sentence: When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis.

This book is written in three parts and in the first-person voice of the 15-year-old Michael Berg. I could not put it down the moment I picked it up. The New York Times says that it is "arresting, philosophically elegant, morally complex..." Focus Munich says that it is "breathtaking" and Los Angeles Times says this: "From the first page, The Reader ensnares both heart and mind." How true. And oh, I forgot to mention that Elle says this: "Haunting... Memorable... with small moments of highly charged eroticism."

Everything that has been said is true. To the point that I do not know what more to add to my own review. The synopsis gives a good outline of the story without giving away too much. Chapter Ten (Part Three) jolted me. I cried. I asked why.

Hanna Schmitz is an intriguing character. Michael is a thinking person. See how Michael rationalizes his decision to go to Frau Schmitz, silencing his bad conscience, but attempts to explain that it is not what gives him the courage to go to her:

As the days went on, I discovered that I couldn't stop thinking sinful thoughts. In which case I also wanted the sin itself.
There was another way to look at it. Going there might be dangerous. But it was obviously impossible for the danger to act itself out. [...] It was more dangerous not to go; I was running the risk of becoming trapped in my own fantasies.

Michael is also an escapist. He said these when referring to his legal profession:

I escaped and was relieved that I could do so.
Now escape involves not just running away, but arriving somewhere. [...] Here, escape is not a preoccupation with the past, but a determined focus on the present and the future that is blind to the legacy of the past which brands us and with which we must live.

Something that Michael said about reading stood out for me. It is about reading aloud and that books read aloud also stays longer in his memory. I think it is absolutely true. It takes longer but it sure sticks longer too. He loves reading to Hanna.

This is a book that will stay with me a long time and one that I would re-read. It is not an easy read and requires reflection. I suggest you give it a try, too, if you have not. I am now ready to watch the movie starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.

Related Post: Teaser Tuesday