Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review:: The Reader

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

This was a random purchase on a recent trip to Gardner's Book Store a few months ago.  The synopsis on the back captured my attention, painting it as somewhat of a mystery novel. Well, if I'm honest, I found it to be a little strange and not at all mysterious. 

The novel is set during WWII in Germany, although the main content of the book completely ignores the war as it is happening...the book is more about the relationship developing between the two main characters, Michael and Hanna.  Michael is a 15-year-old boy, who after getting sick on his walk home from school one day, is tended to by Hanna, a woman in her early thirties.  Hanna cleans him up and walks him home.  It ends up Michael's sickness was caused by hepatitis, therefore causing him to miss nearly an entire school year to recover.  During that time, while taking doctor-prescribed walks, he made daily visits to Hanna at her apartment, where they began a very bizarre romance.  Hanna is secretive about her life, only telling Michael tiny bits here and there, which include the fact that she works as a trolley ticket taker.  Say that three times fast.  Their lusty affair begins to wane as times passes, partly because Hanna is too busy being an adult with a job, and partly because Michael regains his health and rejoins his friends and their high school existence.  Then one day, Hanna just disappears leaving no explanation or any way to contact her.

Years pass, then the war trials begin.  Michael, now in college, is assigned with his class to attend these trials by one of his professors.  Lo and behold, one of the women on trial for her crimes committed at a concentration camp is Hanna.  While every other former guard on trial defends herself vehemently, Hanna seems to refuse to do so, even implicating herself on occasion or accepting responsibility that apparently wasn't hers.  Her motive for acting thus was supposed to be the big mystery of the novel.  I figured it out in the beginning chapters of the book, and was a little amazed at how long it took Michael to come to the same conclusion. 

I know I've more or less just beat down the whole book, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it really.  There were some aspects of the book I found interesting.  The psychology presented, for example.  Michael's narrative was always very pensive, and he raised very interesting questions about morality, loyalty, honesty, and love.  His obsession with Hanna throughout his entire life, and the dysfunction that resulted, seemed very real-to-life.  Reading the viewpoint of a child (albeit a fictitious child) of German parents who looked the other way while a genocide was taking place was another illuminating high point of the book.  While it wasn't my favorite summer read, I can honestly say it was intriguing.  I'd be interested to hear what you think about it if you give it a go!

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