The Reader (1995 US) by Bernhard Schlink tells the story of its main character, Michael Berg, and his affair with an older woman. The larger story is about generations of German people, after the Holocaust, struggling with trying to understand what and why it happened and how their own families were involved or chose to do nothing.
The story is told in three parts. First, Michael as a young boy recovering from an illness. He is helped by an attractive older woman when he is sick in the street. Their relationship builds as they are both lonely people in their own ways. Reaching out to each other they begin to have an affair, a 15 year-old and a woman more than twice his age. The writing of the love scenes is well done, and the meaning of the affair to Michael is well conveyed. As part of the relationship Michael begins to read to Hannah. Reading becomes an intimate part of their relationship. Soon the affair dwindles as Michael grows up and joins his friends, and when Hannah unexpectedly leaves her job to move to another city.
The second part of the story takes place much later when Michael is a law student auditing a war crimes trial. Hannah is one of the defendents accused of atrocities while she was a guard at a concentration camp. It is here that Michael realizes that Hannah is illiterate and that she would rather be punished more harshly than necessary than have her secret found out. The third part of the story is about Michael's continued relationship with Hannah while she is in prison and at the time of her release.
The Reader is about a young man growing up in troubled times in a troubled nation, but it is also about the tragedy of ignorance and pride.
I came late to reading this book, deciding to read it only because I wanted to see the recently released film. I wish I had read it sooner.