Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Reader

Don't let the size of this book fool you. I've just finished the pithy book The Reader (Der Vorleser) by law professor and writer Bernhard Schlink, a haunting story of love and guilt in which the legacy of Nazi crimes unexpectedly and dramatically enters a young man's life. Published in Germany in 1995, and in the U. S. in 1997, it was the first German novel to top the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into at least 37 languages, and is often read in college courses in Holocaust and German literature. The Reader was made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, which I intend to see.

Set in post WWII West Germany in 1958, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg gets sick in the street on his way home from school, and a tram worker takes him to her apartment and helps him get cleaned up. Later, he visits the woman, Hanna Schmitz, to thank her, and is drawn into an intense and strange love affair. Besides the considerable age difference between them--she's old enough to be his mother--their clandestine meetings are unusual in other ways and include a ritual of reading aloud. At her request, Michael reads to Hanna, before they shower and make love. Hanna mysteriously disappears after a misunderstanding, and Michael is overcome with feelings of guilt and loss. Years later, when Michael is studying law at the university, he attends one of the many belated Nazi war crime trials, and is utterly shocked when he recognizes Hanna in the courtroom, on trial with a group of former Auschwitz concentration camp guards. During the proceedings, it becomes evident that Hanna is hiding something which is even more shameful to her than murder, something that might save her from imprisonment. I do not want to spoil this story for you, so I'll refrain from revealing the secret or what happens. (Why not read it for yourself? Or see the movie, which has been nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress.) The Reader is an important literary work which illustrates the guilt and shame that the Germans bear for the Holocaust, and the moral divide between the generations, and is unforgettable in its psychological and moral complexity.


  1. I read this ages ago and I forget what the secret was! But I do remember that I found it to be a very powerful book. Perhaps a reread is in order, or a visit to the movie theatre.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kate.
    Kate Winslet won Best Actress tonight, so I know I'll see this movie soon!

  3. Suko, you're write as a writer but i think you have a best creativity in your soul.

  4. Wow, I didn't even know the movie was a book or anything else! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Lately, I 've been drawn to books that have been made into movies, and movies that are based on books.

    Kim, thanks for stopping by!

  6. Thanks for leaving a comment for author Kim Smith today at The Real Hollywood.

  7. Thanks for this thoughtful review. I have seen The Reader many times in my local book stores. It is in the "Movie tie in section". I wondered if I should read it or not. Now I will for sure read it by year end.

  8. I've been wanting to read this one for a while. I hope to get to it before I see the movie. Would it be okay to post a link to your review on War Through the Generations?

    Diary of an Eccentric

  9. Anna, I would be honored if you linked to this post.


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