Publication: 1997 (paperback), Phoenix House
Page Count: 216
My Rating: Intellectual Read
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink was widely acclaimed after it was included on Oprah’s Book Club, and again found success in the form of several Academy Award nominations in 2008 after being adapted into a film starring Kate Winslet.
Michael Berg, a 15 year old German boy living in post-WW2 Germany, begins a highly sexual affair with a 36 year old woman, Hanna. After months of this torrid affair, Hanna suddenly disappears with no warning or explanation.
Years later and now a budding law student, Michael attends a legal seminar where his Professor assigns students to take word-by-word records of trial proceedings for Nazi war crimes. Unexpectedly, Hanna is a defendent in the trial that is being observed, and Michael realises that there is much to Hanna that he never knew…
I loved this novel. It was completely different to anything I have read before, and approaches the context of post-WW2 Germany in a way that is not clichéd or stereotypical. While it isn’t a light-hearted read, the ideas that Bernhard Schlink explore evoke much thought and consideration.
Bernard Schlink is like an artist; he paints scenes and emotions in a way that not only forces his readers to consider uncomfortable notions and characters, but compels us to dive right in and comfront them face-on. The first section of The Reader is highly sexual and can be incredibly uncomfortable in places. Afterall, the relationship between Michael and Hanna is not a typical one given their ages, and the description of their sexual relationship pushes this uncomfortable feeling onto the reader. But as Bernhard Schlink skilfully paints his characters, by the conclusion of the novel the pairing is not as shocking as initially thought. This is a great talent, and I found myself smiling and enjoying the range of emotions Bernhard creates in his writing.
One of the ideas explores is the concepts of shame. We question post-WW2 Germany, and the concept of shame. Not only shame of those who committed atrocious acts, but those who tolerated them.
“My father did not want to talk about himself, but I knew he had lost his job as a university lecturer in philosophy for scheduling a lecture on Spinoza, and had got himself and us through the war as an editor for a house that published hiking maps and books. How did I decide that he too was under sentence of shame? But I did. We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst.”
Personally, I have never read a novel that so clearly presents the concept of generational shame, and as such I found The Reader to be a wonderfully intellectual novel. I solidly recommend this novel to anyone looking for something different. It is not a challenging read and shouldn’t take very long to get through, but this is one that you will be thinking about for a long, long time.
Where Can You Get It?
To buy The Reader for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.