Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Christmas vacation, some airport and flying time was enough to finish The Reader. I am driven to try to read a novel before seeing a movie and knowing that Kate Winslet would probably be nominated for her work in the adaptation of Schlink's work, this novel was next on my "to read" list. It was a fast read, but one that posed many ethical and moral issues.

Set in a post-Holocaust Germany, Michael Berg, a 15 year-old, gets ill on his way home from school. Hanna Schmitz, a middle-aged streetcar attendant, helps him. Determined to thank her, Michael returns to her home and is seduced by her. The next months see both Hanna and Michael consumed with the trysts that ensue. Michael reads classic literature to her, they take a long bicycle trip, and are passionate about each other. Then one day Hanna vanishes without notice to anyone. Michael grieves for her and blames himself for her disappearance.

Part 2 opens with Hanna being tried as a war criminal. Michael is attending law school and happens to be observing the trial. He faces a moral and ethical dilemma as to whether to help her and possibly free her while at the same time revealing information about her past that she surely would not want made public.

In the last part of the book, Michael and Hanna meet again. She is in jail and he sends her books on tape. He has kept her secret and their secret. To say anymore would give much too much away about the book's end. Suffice it to say that The Reader will engage the reader as it portrays Germany in the 1950's and the way that it must reconcile the horrendous atrocities of the Holocaust with the role its citizens played during and after the Nazi regime.

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