Title: The Reader
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Publisher: Vintage International (1995)
Where I got it: eBorrowed on my Kindle from the Boston Public Library (BPL)
Rating: 4 stars
In post-WWII Germany, 15-year-old Michael Berg gets mysteriously and violently ill in the street on his way home from school. An older woman, Hanna, helps him get cleaned up and offers to walk him home. She has to change before they go. There’s this weird scene where she’s unselfconsciously pulling up her stockings, which makes Michael feel all weird and he takes off running like a weirdo.
After this encounter, Hanna is all he can think about. So he goes back to her house with flowers to thank her for her kindness (i.e. see if he can get in her pants). Low and behold Hanna has no morals and bags the 15-year-old. They begin a semi-pornographic love affair (I mean, have you seen the movie??).
So, why is it called The Reader? Well, Hanna asks Michael to read to her every time they see each other. It’s their *thing*
One day Hanna disappears and Michael is all emo and treats people like crap because his heart is shattered and blames her for his inability to feel anything about anything. He gets married, has a kid, gets divorced, etc. It’s exhausting.
When he’s in law school, he runs into her during the war criminal trials in Germany. Hanna is on trial for her part in a mass murder of Jewish women during one of the death marches. Michael feels so many mixed emotions about her trial. He’s angry at her for leaving him, and he’s sad for her because he doesn’t think that she ever did anything maliciously–for her, it was just a job.
Then comes this philosophical monologue about how the German youth feel extremely out of place and guilty and accusatory of their parents’ generation. It’s a very interesting look at German sentiments post WWII. I once had an exchange student from Germany and when ever someone said something like “that teacher is being such a Nazi about that stupid homework assignment,” she would take personal offense. I never really understood why, so thanks Mr. Schlink for clearing that up.
Anyway, Hanna goes to jail for life in order to protect a secret and Michael figures out the secret during the trial, but he doesn’t help her. While she’s in jail he reads into a tape recorder and sends her these tapes. I don’t want to ruin it, so I’ll leave off here, but the ending is so tragic and leaves you feeling confused like YOU INSANE PERSON! WHY WOULD YOU GO TO JAIL FOR LIFE TO PROTECT THAT SECRET? and like I THOUGHT YOU THOUGHT YOU LOVED HER. WHY ARE YOU BEING RUDE, FOOL!
I really liked this book though. Read it in like a day.