The Reader: A Novel
|Author:||Bernhard Schlink, Carol Brown Janeway|
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.
When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1999: 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 postwar 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 postwar generations, between the guilty and the innocent, and between words and silence. —R. Ellis
The Reader opens in post-WWII Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna, a stranger twice his age. Michael recovers from scarlet fever and seeks out Hanna to thank her. The two are quickly drawn into a passionate but secretive affair.
Michael discovers that Hanna loves being read to and their physical relationship deepens. Hanna is enthralled as Michael reads to her from The Odyssey, Huck Finn, and The Lady with the Little Dog. Despite their intense bond, Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left confused and heartbroken.
Eight years later, while Michael is a law student observing the Nazi war crime trials, he is stunned to find Hanna back in his life—this time as a defendant in the courtroom. As Hanna’s past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives. The Reader is a haunting story about truth and reconciliation, about how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another.