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The Reader Paperback – 2 Oct 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 229 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (2 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753804700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753804704
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (229 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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, --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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I came to Bernard Schlink's novel, The Reader, as a result of the publicity surrounding the film of the book. The story is told by Michael Berg who looks back at a relationship he had at 15 with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz. It is a story of unrequited love set in Germany in the context of the post second world war years. Underlying the pains of a love story are huge universal moral themes such as guilt, betrayal, whether or not the burden of responsibility can and should be passed from one generation to another, the issue of being responsible for ones action and the willingness to be held accountable.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this novel. It's narrative is simple; easy to read and could be described as plain but I felt it fit with the style and pace of the book really well.

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.
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By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 July 2004
Format: Paperback
Winner of the Boston Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, this thematically complex story is written in clear, simple, lucid prose. It is a straightforward telling of an encounter that was to mark fifteen year old Michael Berg for life. The book, written as if it were a memoir, is divided into three parts. The first part of the book deals with that encounter.
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.
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Format: Paperback
The topic of the Holocaust is raised almost every day in some manner. Many books have been written about the topic. Whether in studies, documentaries or fictional accounts, finger-pointing at the perpetrators of the crimes against millions has been part of the process of coming to terms with the Nazi atrocities. For Imre Kertesz, renowned author and Nobel laureate of 2002, there is no other topic. Yet, when he reflects on the traumatic impact of Auschwitz, "he dwells on the vitality and creativity of those living today" and "thus, paradoxically, not on the past but the future." Bernhard Schlink, professor of law and practicing judge in Germany, born in 1944, has attempted to capture the struggles of his generation in confronting the past and the future in "The Reader". "Pointing at the guilty party did not free us from shame", his narrator and protagonist contemplates, "but at least it overcame the suffering we went through on account of it".
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.
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