The Reader Paperback – 2 Oct 2003
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Originally published in Switzerland and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading and shame in post-war Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: what should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? "We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable... Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt? To what purpose?"
The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages. What does it mean to love those people--parents, grandparents, even lovers--who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known? And is any atonement possible through literature? Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue and excess in any form. What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre and post-war generations, between the guilty and the innocent and between words and silence. --R Ellis, Amazon.com --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Deeply moving, sensitive enough to make me wince, a Holocaust novel, but light years away from the common run (Ruth Rendell Sunday Telegraph)
Schlink's extraordinary novel The Reader is a compelling meditation on the connections between Germany's past and its present, dramatised with extreme emotional intelligence as the story of a relationship between the narrator and an older woman. It has won deserved praise across Europe for the tact and power with which it handles its material, both erotic and philosophical (Independent)
Leaps national boundaries and speaks straight to the heart . . . a moving, suggestive and ultimately hopeful work (New York Times)
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is the German novel I have been waiting for: it objectifies the Holocaust and legitimately makes all mankind responsible (Sir Peter Hall Observer)
For generations to come, people will be reading and marvelling over Bernhard Schlink's The Reader (Evening Standard)
Haunting and unforgettable (Literary Review)
[Schlink] explores the conflict between generations, wrestling with collective guilt and individual motivation. He examines the nature if understanding and tests the limits of forgiveness. He does these things with honesty, restraint and a moral precision both unsettling and rare. The result is as compelling as any thriller (The Times)
A stunning examination of evil, this novel explores crime and punishment, love and guilt, dignity and degradation. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)
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Top Customer Reviews
It is reasonable to say that The Reader is a novel of ideas. Along with the themes mentioned above, another area of exploration is memory. For Michael his personal identity is built on memory. I found this issue very engaging as I was reminded that it is the joys and pains of memory that at least partly shapes our character.
But such esoteric ideas, if one could call them that, should not deter prospective readers. The Reader is a very accessible novel. On one level it is a story of childhood that charmed and drew me into its world. Yet in another way it is an erotic story that captures the spirit of many teenage boys who desire the older woman - the forbidden fruit. Michael gets the forbidden fruit but at a cost - namely unrequited love and anguish into adulthood that strained further relationships he had with women.
The sombre tone of the narrative fits very well with Michael's anguish. But the tone is sombre not only for that reason, not only because of the illicit liaison, not only because of Hanna's mysterious pasts but more because of Michael's betrayal of Hanna in more than one way.Read more ›
Hanna is a complex character - while knowing, from her first encounter with Michael and the nature of this, that we should dislike her - I found Michael's utter obsession with her, and particularly as the book progressed, forced me to see past those initial instincts.
She can further be demonised by her acts and then her behaviours when attempting to defend herself and what she has alleged to have done while working in Concentration Camps across Nazi Germany, but again, it was Michaels depth of feeling for her - the fact that thoughout all three parts of the tale, when you see how Hanna morphs from teenage obsession to an object of love lost through to pitiless captor capable of all evil and on to an aged woman - he never loses his addiction to her.
His entire life has revolved around his love for such a woman and that, for me, was pivotal in my enjoyment of this novel and why I will recommend it to others. This was the latest offering at my book club and the reason why I go - I'm not sure I would have picked it up otherwise.
While on his way home from school one day in post-war Germany, Michael becomes ill. He is aided by a beautiful and buxom, thirty six year old blonde named Hanna Schmitz. When he recovers from his illness, he goes to Frau Schmitz's home to thank her and eventually finds himself seduced by her and engaged in a sexual encounter. They become lovers for a period of time, and a component of their relationship was that Michael would read aloud to her. Michael romanticizes their affair, which is a cornerstone of his young life. They even go away on a trip together. Then, one day, as suddenly as she appeared in his life, she disappears, having inexplicably moved with no forwarding address.
The second part of the book deals with Michael's chance encounter with Hanna again. He is now a law student in a seminar that is focused on Germany's Nazi past and the related war trials. The students are young and eager to condemn all who, after the end of the war, had tolerated the Nazis in their midst. Even Michael's parents do not escape his personal condemnation. The seminar is to be an exploration of the collective guilt of the German people, and Michael embraces the opportunity, as do others of his generation, to philosophically condemn the older generation for having sat silently by. Then, he is assigned to take notes on a trial of some camp guards.
To his total amazement, one of the accused is Hanna, his Hanna.Read more ›
The usually unambiguous distinction between villain and victim has facilitated the identification with those who lost their lives or suffered under the Nazi atrocities while all scorn, abhorrence and hate was piled on the perpetrators. Until recently, few books have focused on the after-war generation. While growing up, the children had to come to terms with the, often sudden, exposure of their parents' active or passive participation in the crimes of the Nazi regime. "The Reader", set in post-war Germany and against the backdrop of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of the mid-sixties, takes this new and, for our generations, important angle: in the form of the fictional memoir of Michael Berg.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Shines a light into a dark corner of a nation's history and its aftermath. Would recommend anybody to read as will challenge your established opinions.Published 2 months ago by noggy1810
The book was recommended to me. It is a well written story about the mixture of attitudes that was the result of the events under the Nazis. A good book for a reading groupPublished 3 months ago by Marco Polo
It's pretty slow to get going and then doesn't really do much I'm afraid. I expected alot more. Probably ok if you don't mind a slow read.Published 3 months ago by Nicola A. Hartley
Read like a documentary, not a novel. Soulless! Anything but a page-turner.Published 4 months ago by P.Bowler
Really compulsive read, hard to put down. On one hand a story of lust and abandon that then shows it's darker more troubling underbelly. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer