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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - Book Review


The Reader
Bernhard Schlink

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

For fifteen year old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realise that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense but then suddenly, and terribly, it does - Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

"A tender, horrifying novel that shows blazingly well how the Holocaust should be dealt with in fiction. A thriller, a love story and a deeply moving examination of a German conscience." - Independent Saturday Magazine

We Say

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is an unusual book. It has received international attention and has been translated from German. Because it is a translation, I have to wonder what has been lost in the translation process. Despite being unable to read this book in its native language, the subject matter makes this novel moving without even trying.

I feel The Reader is an unusual book because to some, the story may be offensive. Despite the obstacles, Bernhard Schlink manages to tell this story from a very unique perspective. Amid the tragedy, horror and hope, The Reader seems to explores the human need to know why and how.

The narrator, Michael Berg, falls in love when he is fifteen with a woman named Hanna who is twice his age. At the time of the affair, he is unaware of how this event will define the rest of his life. The idea that a fifteen year old would have an affair with a woman twice his age may be every young man's dream but for many, it is a disturbing image. Schlink seems to use this disturbing affair as a way to prepare the reader for what will be revealed later in the book.

While I wanted to dislike Hanna, I found myself feeling profoundly sad for her as the novel progressed and eventually, I had to admire her courage. The narrator spends considerable time wondering why things have happened or how things could have been different in his relationship with Hanna. It is his journey that helps us to see that our desire to know why can be our best and worst quality.

We all have secrets and the characters in The Reader are no different. Bernhard Schlink does an excellent job revealing all of the deepest darkest secrets of his characters. What is so realistic and amazing about this novel is that our perceptions of what we should hide from others is challenged. What society may think is the most horrible secret, is the one the characters are least concerned about hiding. The secret that society may feel is trivial is often the one people tend to guard extensively. As a whole generation of Germans searched for the reasons why the Holocaust was allowed, our narrator is forced to examine his own perceptions and he must reexamine which secrets in his life are really worth keeping.

Once again, this is a book that explores the tragedy and triumph of a human life. While I am forced to disagree with the other book reviews that state that this is a novel that should be read, then read again, I will have to agree that it is a well written book, well worth the time it takes to read it. I am always in favour of those books that challenge our most cherished beliefs about a group of people or a supposed wrong that has been committed. The Reader accomplishes this and it definitely made me think.

Review by: Yumi Nagasaki-Taylor

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