The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

by HRevvdon@evpl on Saturday, February 7 2009, 7:34am. Viewed 1,162 times.

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.


Comments (4)

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on Saturday, February 7 2009, 10:05am

I was prepared to like this book, but just ended up hating Hannah, both for her illicit relationship with 15-year-old Michael and her active participation in the Holocaust.

Did you know that the German author is a distinquished law professor and judge and that the novel is semi-autobiographical? It's all about German guilt.

I have a feeling that the movie fleshes out Hannah and makes her a more sympathetic character than in the novel.

on Saturday, February 7 2009, 1:11pm

I thought that Hannah was such a two dimensional character, maybe intentionally, that I did not really concentrate on her at all.  I didn't care about her one way or another - she was a prop.  I think the author could have done so much more with her.  there were so many opportunities to either sympathetic or hateful - either would have been better.  

For me the story was all about the young man, and he ticked me off at times too.  

I did not know that it was semi-autobiographical, that is interesting.  When I said ignorance and guilt - it was on the part of both characters but in very different ways.

on Saturday, February 7 2009, 1:44pm

I think that both Hannah and Michael were pretty two-dimensional.  Their characters and motivations just were not fleshed out.

But the book is worth reading, just to see what all the fuss is about.

on Wednesday, March 4 2009, 4:21pm

I just finished this book on audio, and was surprised at its brevity and pacing. It did seem less about the characters than about the author perhaps working out his feelings about the Holocaust. I'd be interested in reading about the semi-autobiographical aspects of the story, and also seeing Kate Winslet in the role of Hannah.