“ Author: Bernhard Schlink / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 01 December 2008 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: The Reader / ISBN 13: 9780753823293 / ISBN 10: 0753823293 „
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This is a review of the 1997 book "The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink, which I read aware that it had been made into a film in 2008 with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, this is a book review only. I have tried to write the review in a way that does not reveal the story line too much as I realise you may want to read it yourselves!
A bit about the story
The book, set in Germany, begins with 15 year old Michael who has an unfortunate incident - vomiting in public - and a woman (Hanna) helps to take care of him and takes him home after cleaning him up. Michael lays ill for six months then urged by his mother, takes some flowers to Hanna's flat to say thank you. This leads to a bizarre love affair between the thirty something Hanna and 15 year old Michael.
In part two of the book, both Hanna and Michael have moved on until a chance meeting brings their lives back together in one of the worst circumstances you can imagine.
At first I thought it was a bit like The Graduate, with an older woman seducing a younger man but the age difference and Michael's age made it more sordid and socially unacceptable. Michael has so much freedom, his parents don't even realise when he takes a cycling holiday with Hannah.
I really did wonder how did this book ever become a film? It is just 200 and a few pages with the words really spaced out. I think (although I haven't watched it) they must have done some padding on the film to make it last enough time! The three sections in the book really help to convey the time passing and the effect that Hanna has on Michael's life and although you don't realise it, vice versa.
Although Michael loves spending time at the beginning with Hanna, you realise she is not doing him any favours as the book progresses he is obsessed with Hanna and the thought of her helps to ruin any future successful relationships he may have.
Deeper issues (*spoiler)
The second part of the book is set 15 years after the second world war and the country is still hurting from all the wrongs that were done in the Concentration Camps and as Michael enters a career in Law he is assigned the role of sitting in the court whilst some women ex-SS Guards are tried for war crimes. He is staggered on day one to find out that his tram conductor ex lover, Hanna is being tried for being a guard in one of the camps and is taking the blame for the deaths of many women who were under her care. He feels torn between his feelings for Hanna and for the poor prisoners who suffered in the camps.
"The Reader" sounds like a simplistic title but it refers to one of Michael and Hanna's rituals they had in their secret meetings. Hanna asks Michael to read to her and enjoys hearing the classics being read to her. It takes Michael many years to get to the reason why she loves being read to.
Whilst I enjoyed reading this book it felt really short and the whole time I was struggling with the ages of Michael and Hanna to believe it could be a real love story. I'm not sure if I want to watch the film or not but I suppose I will when it is aired on TV. Some really difficult issues are covered in the book which are all based on true facts so it can be upsetting to read and think about the awful and cruel time the prisoners in the Camps suffered. I don't think Hanna was really evil but I think she was able to distance herself away from what was really happening so she could do her job guarding the prisoners. I am sure many people will enjoy reading "The Reader" but for me it was mediocre and needed far more content to be enjoyed.
PS. I have since seen the film and am impressed how true it stays to the book, I think I liked the film better than the book actually.
This story is set in Post WWII Germany and deals with the difficulty of subsequent generations in understanding the Holocaust. It also deals with the problem of guilt regarding the Holocaust.
I do not want to give the story away to those who might read it so I will give only a brief outline to wet your appetite. The basis of the story is a love affair between a 15 year old boy and a 36 year old woman. Years after their short love affair the boy, now a young man, finds out that the woman was an SS guard during the war and served for a time in Auschwitz. He attends the trial of the woman and 5 others.
The story then joins the man and the woman years later and we see how they have affected each other even years after their short relationship.
I enjoyed reading this book. It is written simply and flows well and is therefore easy to read. I did find the way that the love affair began quite strange and a bit unbelievable, but it happens right at the start and you quickly get over it. After that I think the author develops the characters well and has you wanting to read on to find out what will happen next.
All in all for me it was an enjoyable book that had me renting out the DVD the same day I finished the book.
I was really disappointed by this book. I had been looking forward for a long time. However, the premise I found actually quite disappointing when it was put into action. Yes, this about a relationship between a Nazi and a young boy, but it's post-war - I seriously didn't know this, I was convinced that it was during the war so I was ignoring all evidence to the contrary until it was explicitly made clear - and it all just flashes by so quickly. The novel is divided into three parts and one second you're reading about their little love affair and the next moment you're reading about the trial. The transition is very abrupt and I don't think you are really given a chance to engage with the characters. In addition, I don't think the author really understood his own cahracters and I think he is using them more as tools to discuss the question of the German guilt. I seriously didn't understand how or why the whole love affair began because it just...began. And then it was over. And then we are seeing the trial.
This was very easy to read but I don't think that's really a benefit. I had finhed two parts just reading for two hours or so. This wasn't because I was enraptured or anything. It was just because the language was so simple and dispassionate. It just doesn't really involve you. I didn't really appreciate the whole point Schlink was trying to make. I did feel a little for the character at the end but to be honest this is just one of those books that you open and close. I wanted it to be a book that you'd want to discuss for hours and hours as it should have been, but the book just left me feeling a little meh. I was seriously disappointed as I had been looking forward to the book for ages.
The Reader is a novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink and is nominally a love story about a young boy falling in love with a women in her early thirties. Its set just after the war, and the woman is a bus conductor called Hannah and the boy is called Michael.
This book is told solely from the first person perspective of Michael because of this we have a lot of detail about other things but the boy himself I found a bit of an enigma, we are told very little about his looks or indeed his hopes and fears for the future. However, on the subject of Hanna we are given all the details, her hair, what she looks like, her body shape, her long silky legs and her slightly colourful language.
Michael meets her when he suffers an attack of hepatitis and she helps him home, he then takes flowers around to her flat and then manages to get another meeting with her and they engage in a passionate love affair.
There are greater forces at work here though than a bit of adolescent first conquests, Germany is still torn by the war and though never mentioned overtly the population is thrown between trying to forget and trying to punish those responsible. Hanna appears a well established though lowly member of society, she has rather attached herself to the energetic young man and though we aren't privy to her thoughts, her actions say plenty. Hanna is clearly highly sexed and also sexually liberated, she takes the young man on a sexual adventure which only seems to get more and more wild. However, even here there appear to be caveats, she won't let him have sex with her on her tram late at night and she gets very upset when he disappears one morning when they have stayed over in a small hotel.
Then finally when everything appears settled Hanna finally visits Michaels house when his parents are away, and though you don't know it at the time you feel instinctively that the happy days of youth for the young man are going to change forever and that proves correct when she disappears.
Jump forward a few years and now Michael is a student and seeing that there is going to be a war crimes trial at a nearby town goes along and is shocked when he finds out one of the accused is Hanna. I think this is pretty well known from the blurb on the back and the films release so I don't think I'm giving too much away.
What do I think about the latter scenes? Well I expected to be moved but maybe the films release watered down the shock or I just didn't quite grasp Michael and Hanna's story but the ending didn't really leave me thinking wow thats awesome but more well thats interesting. I then moved onto my next book and didn't really think I must read that again soon.
Maybe I missed something, maybe the style of writing in the first person gave only one side of the story, that of Michaels and we never hear Hanna's side in her true voice or maybe those complex difficult times are too abstract for me in my comfy English twenty first century life to really grasp?
I enjoyed the book don't get me wrong, but did it move me like Animal Farm or Catch22, or indeed Robert Harris's Archangel then the answer would be no.
Winner of the Boston Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, this thematically complex story is written in clear, simple, lucid prose. The reader is a book about love, sex, reading and shame in post-war Germany. The tale revolves around Michael Berg, who is only 15 years old when he begins an obsessive affair with Hanna, a mysterious older woman. Michael romanticizes their affair, which is a cornerstone of his young life, however he never learns much about the 'real' Hanna; and when she disappears one day he just gets on with his life, facing up to the fact that he probably will never see her again. In the second part of the book, Michael is now a law student in a seminar that is focused on Germany's Nazi past and the related war trials. As part of a class assignment, Michael is assigned to take notes on a trial of some camp guards during which he witnesses Hanna as a defendant and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty for an unspeakable crime. The third part of the book is really the way Michael deals with having found Hanna. The relationship between Michael and Hanna really seems to be parallel to the relationship between the generations of Germans in post-war Germany. The affair between Michael and Hanna is representational of the affair that Germany had with the Nazi movement. I cannot say much more without giving the plot away but this is simply an outstanding, interesting book.
Whilst perusing the charity book list at work (books for 25p) I came across "The Reader", and being vaguely aware that it had recently been made into a film and that it had issues surrounding the Holocaust in it I was quick to part with my 25p before someone else got it! The rrp is £7.99 but it can currently be found on Amazon for under £5.
I haven't been reading much this year, choosing instead to stare out of the train window at sheep. However, from the moment I picked up this book I was hooked and it was over before I knew it (well, a day and a bit later technically).
This is a difficult book to review since I don't want to give away too much of the plot, I have read reviews which give away something quite major which we don't find out until well into the story (although I have to admit I'm a bit slow and don't ever really try to think about what is going to happen). Thankfully although I had read such reviews my memory is terrible and therefore it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story - it was all new to me!
---The Book and the Author---
The book is just 216 pages in length (the other reason it was so quick to read), and split into three sections. Each section is split into short chapters, some as short as only 2 pages. While really short chapters do tend to annoy me, I have to say that they didn't in this case and if anything they made me read more quickly than otherwise. My copy has a black and white photo of an open book with flowers placed on it.
"The Reader" was written by Bernard Schlink in 1995 in German, and the English version was translated by Carol Brown Janeway, in 1997. Some might be interested to hear that it was the first German book to top the New York Times bestseller list (isn't Wikipedia great?!)
Schlink (according to my book) is the author of "Flights of Love", and according to Wikipedia is an author of lots of books (mainly detective novels) as well as being a judge. Of course you can just as easily Google Schlink yourself, but I have to say it's quite interesting reading a bit about him having read "The Reader" as I can understand more where he is coming from.
The Reader (or Der Vorleser as it was originally known) is told in the first person retrospectively. When we begin (in the late 1950s) Michael Berg is a boy of 15. Having been suffering from hepatitis Michael goes to meet and thank Hanna Schmitz, the lady who gave him help when he first fell ill in the street.
Michael and Hanna begin what is a very strange relationship which is predominantly based around sex rather than talking to each other, but then around reading as Hanna asks Michael to read to her. It's all quite shocking really, while Michael is only 15, Hanna is 36 (of course this gives us a lot to think about!) But then one day Hanna just disappears...
Fast forward 8 years and we're in the second park of the book. Michael is now a law student, observing a war crimes trial where a group of women are on trial for atrocities in Auschwitz where they were guards. Michael is shocked to discover that Hanna is one of the women on trial.
Part three is about what happened after the trial. I don't really want to say any more about the story, as you can find that out for yourself when you read it!
This book really did make me think. There were at least 2 occasions where I had to put the book down so that I could have a think! It particularly made me think about the Holocaust in a slightly different way, thinking about the choices that the Germans made and why they made them. The book is written to question, as Michael questions the actions of those in the generation before him, and questions his own thoughts and actions.
I went through so many emotions whilst reading this - shock, disbelief, pride, anger, sadness, discomfort. To an extent I felt how Michael felt, that whole feeling of regret. And while I can't say that I would necessarily have acted in the ways that he acted I can understand his character. Obviously since the book is narrated by Michael, the other characters are based on his perceptions of them, and they can never be developed since we only know what Michael knows.
I love the way the book was written, although of course it is hard to say as I haven't read it in its original German form - that would be stupid really as my German only extends as far as Ich bin zwolf jahre alt! Michael's memories of the past are not always clear, and he makes the reader aware of this, for example "It is hard for me to imagine that I felt good about behaving like that". Michael seems mature beyond his years when talking about his 15 year old self, but of course that is because he is looking back as an adult. Perhaps this is why I don't think the sexual relationship between child and adult wasn't as shocking as it otherwise might have been.
I suppose that in a way I am disappointed that the book was so short, there is so much more that could have been included (such as more about Michael's relationship with his family), it could have been at least twice the length. However, on the other hand everything that needed to be in the book was in the book, there was much left to the imagination (pretty much everything about Hanna), and this is a good thing. What I'm saying really is that as I enjoyed the book so much I would have liked that experience to have gone on for longer. In reality the book was the perfect length for the book!
I am fascinated with learning more about the Holocaust...in fact "The Nazi Officer's Wife" is next on my reading list. "Schindler's List" (sadly I just couldn't get into the book) and "The Pianist" are high up on my list of favourite films. "The Reader" approaches the issue from a very different angle, and although it is a work of fiction, of course the issues are not fiction. I suppose similar in ways to "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" which had quite an effect on me (although admittedly certain parts of that are far from realistic).
It is rare that a book touches me like "The Reader" has. I had no intention of writing a review when I started reading the book, but if I can encourage someone else to read this then it's got to be worth it.
I will certainly be watching the film version in the very near future. I will be very interested to see how it's done, although I imagine that it will not even come close to being as good as the book. It doesn't help that for a start Kate Winslet looks completely different from how I imagined Hanna. But we will see!
When fifteen-year-old Michael Berg falls ill on the way home from school, he is helped and then escorted to his door by an older woman by the name of Hanna. Returning after he recovers from his illness to thank the woman, Michael becomes so drawn to her that they begin a love affair - one that he will never forget for the rest of his life - only for her to disappear one day.
The next time Michael encounters Hanna, he is a law student and is studying the trial of several women who are charged with murders during the war - one of the women is Hanna. It becomes clear to Michael that although Hanna is quite clearly guilty of the charges, she is actually hiding a secret - one that she is willing to protect even if that means lifetime imprisonment.
This tale is told from Michael's perspective, jumping right in from the first couple of pages to explain the circumstances of meeting Hanna. At first I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I'd seen clips of the film which has been recently adapted from this book so I had vague ideas as to what happened but I wasn't quite expecting the events that unfolded in the book.
Michael's tale is like a memoir or a diary, he is very honest about his feelings as a fifteen year old boy, and the sexual chemistry that was apparent over everything else when Michael and Hanna first meet is described very honestly which lead to a very matter of fact tale. The book is clearly divided in to two parts, which just as clearly mark out Michael's feelings and state of mind. During his teenage years, he writes about the passion in their relationship and how nothing else mattered aside from him being with Hanna. The second part of the book is when he sees her again years later being tried for the atrocities in WWII. The divide in the story also reflects in Michael's emotional state - and also in my opinion of him, although as a narrator, although he is merely reflecting on his past self and he does acknowledges that he was a silly teenager; Hanna used him during this period and his immaturity stopped him from understanding her true nature. However, he seems completely detached from his emotions during her trial and even admits to the reader when he first realises it is Hanna on trial that he felt nothing - the way in which the tale is told leaves no doubt as to the impression that Hanna left on Michael and this is to the authors credit - it described unrequited love - and unforgotten love perfectly.
As this is narrated from Michaels perspective, we obviously only get to see Michaels point of view, his take on arguments and how he feels about situations. The way in which he writes about Hanna turns her into a mystery in itself and it's for this reason that the book (quite obviously really!) is totally enthralling. As a reader, you want to find out all sorts of things about the way Hanna thinks, what she feels about her relationship with Michael and what her big secret really is - and in this way, I became as fascinated with her as Michael did. She is an interesting character to read about; attractive at thirty six but living alone, and more than willing to start a sexual relationship with a boy of fifteen - what has made her want the companionship so? Is it just because she enjoys him reading to her? The way in which Michael describes their life is so simple but utterly suggestive and it makes compelling reading.
This book is a gripping read, its not an easy read by far; Michael constantly questions himself and the book is full of self-reflection. Quite often, as Michael is contemplating the rights and wrongs of Hanna's actions as well as his own, he is also asking the reader what side of the moral fence they should sit on. For me it was quite clear, and I only had little sympathy for Hanna herself when it came down to it, although I don't think this had anything to do with the narrator's obviously accurate portrayal of her. I have read that people felt uncomfortable with the moral ambiguity of the book - and I'm guessing with Michael's final dilemma during the trial, but as I've said, I didn't get that feeling at all.
This is a tale that needs your full attention - it's a short book but the writing style requires you to make sure you are fully engaged! I know that this tale, as simplistic as it is as a timeless love story, poses all sorts of interesting questions about the atrocities in World War II and the consequent confused feelings of Michael when he learns of her past, as well as the moral implications of her conducting an affair with a teenage boy. To me, this was more a tale of love between ages. The first half of the book is teenage love, and the second half is a tale of ever lasting, for me it was as simple as that.
If there was one film I was desperate to see at the cinema in January it was The Reader. I'd heard quite a bit about it in the run up to Christmas and also saw it continually advertised during January. However somehow I managed to miss it and before I knew it no cinemas in my area were still showing it. I have a general interest in anything about the World Wars, any books or films on them fascinate me and that was what drew me to purchasing this novel in Tesco where I found it on their "2 for £7" promotion.
Bernhard Schlink is a German born law professor and judge who has had a number of novels and pieces published in German over the past thirty years or so. Several of these have been translated into English in more recent years, the particular novel that I am reviewing was translated back in 1997 and was the first one to be translated. He was born back in 1944 and both his parents were theology students. He became a judge in 1988 and later a professor for public law and the philosophy of law in 2006.
The story is told at various points during the life of German born Michael Berg. The reader is first introduced to Michael when he is just fifteen in 1958. He is ill on his way home from school one day and is taken in by thirty six year old Hanna Schmitz who helps clean him up and sends him on his way home. Months later he stops by to thank her for her kindness. A sexual relationship begins between the two whereby Michael will stop in on his way home from school to spend time with Hanna and also to read to her.
Months later Hanna disappears without a trace and Michael feels that it is his fault, that he has been neglecting her while spending time with his friends. The second part of the story begins when Michael is twenty three and studying at law school. He is part of a group of students who are observing various war crimes trials following the war. The main trial which he observes features Hanna who was a guard at a Polish camp and is being tried for war crimes and also for some prisoners who died in a burning, locked church.
The third and final part of the story focuses on Michael when he is in his twenties, years after the court case where he discovered the truth about Hanna. It is clear that Hanna still plays a significant part in Michael's life and indeed has done from the day that they met. Hanna is due to be released shortly from prison and Michael has still been corresponding with her over the years, by sending in recorded readings from books for her to listen to, just like they used to when he was still a teenager visiting her daily.
I was really looking forward to reading this book and started it almost immediately. There are a number of things that I'm going to comment on but the first one to mention is that it really wasn't an easy read - you couldn't just pick this book up and put it down, nor could you read while listening to the radio or anything like that. It's probably one of the most complex and intricate books that I've read since leaving University and it reminded me of something from my English A Level, something we'd dissect over and over.
I found the book strangely gripping in that I was eager to know the outcome from the very start. It wasn't so much that I found it impossible to put down at night as I do with some books, but more that I just wanted to know the ending and then I'd read the book itself at my own pace. It did move at a fast pace, as the book touched on three different time periods and is just over two hundred pages in length, each section moved rapidly throughout a number of months so time was constantly passing quickly.
As I've already mentioned it wasn't an easy read by far, the language used in the novel wasn't your typical language and sometimes I had to read certain passages over again and then stop to determine the exact, simplified meaning of them. Some of the words and terms used I'd never heard of and if I'd had more patience I probably could have used a dictionary to help me out but I just couldn't really be bothered. It's not light reading and it's not your typical holiday reading either, it's complex and sophisticated language.
"I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna's crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding... I wanted to pose myself both tasks - understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both."
The basic story itself is quite interesting; it doesn't focus solely on the war crimes at all. Instead the opening section allows us to get to know the two characters where we meet a naive and young Michael who is enchanted with Hanna and eager to spend time with her. Hanna seems quite a closed book in that there is very little dialogue on which to form a sound opinion of her, we know she has a small flat and works as a conductor but apart from that very little is revealed apart from one important fact...
She is illiterate. This isn't actually revealed until a later point in the story and becomes quite relevant as well during the court case. However the author has done something very clever with this notion of illiteracy. In the story it's simply expressed as an individual being illiterate but later we see the trouble it has caused for her and in a sense the author has used it as a sort of metaphor to show how little is understood about the Holocaust. Her illiteracy is a barrier to everything in her life, as is misunderstanding of the Holocaust.
It's also interesting how we see the characters develop over time, as the story is told from Michal's point of view it is largely him who we see develop most closely. It is also good that each time a new section starts he recaps briefly on what has been happening to bring us up to date so I didn't feel like I'd missed out on anything. Although it's told from his point of view, it's told very distantly in that I never really felt like I knew the character and he still seemed distant despite narrating everything from his point of view which was odd.
There is far more I could say on this novel, on the issues that it touches upon and the repercussions of Hanna being illiterate but by doing so I would spoil the story if you choose to read it. This book touches on a poignant and quite evil event in History, whether or not it is entirely true or not is not something that overly interests me, the fact that it gives me an insight into what it might have been like was eye opening enough. The history aspects are touched upon without it turning into a factual novel; it still retains a fictional feel.
Although I did find this quite hard to read at times due to having to decipher quite a lot of things, it left me with an enormous amount to think about and up to a week after finishing it I'd suddenly find myself realising things that I never did while reading it. It's a great eye opener and a strangely moving novel without it seeming emotive while reading it. If you like your history based novels, or simply want to read a gripping story that's a bit different, I'd certainly recommend this and can't wait to see the film either.
So I will leave you with what the Los Angeles Times said about this novel,
"A formally beautiful, disturbing and finally morally devastating novel."
Thanks for reading.
(Note: not that it's terribly important, but I read the book before I saw the film, despite the fact my film review has already been posted on Dooyoo. Welcome to the crazy, mixed-up world of Dooyoo writing!)
The Reader is one of those books which was never really going to attract attention on the shelf. The version I read had a dull, brown cover showing a tram, whilst the back cover didn't give you much of a clue as to what it was about. If you saw it on the shelf of your local bookshop, the chances are you'd pass it by in favour of other, more attractive looking titles. Maybe now it's been made into a n Oscar winning film, a few more people will read it.
The Reader is a German novel, initially set in the immediate post-war years. Although it is definitely one of those books where the less you know about it when you start the better, I can tell you this much. It centres around a 15 year old narrator, Michael Berg who, after falling ill with hepatitis, starts an illicit relationship with an older woman with a mysterious past.
The Reader is a very simple, but powerful tale, well-told. The more you read, the more it starts to reveal hidden depths and what started off as a seemingly straightforward story soon becomes far more challenging than you initially suspected. As the tale gradually unfolds, you find yourself being confronted with all kinds of moral questions and the seemingly simplistic plot takes on a whole new aspect. Of course, is you've seen the film, then at least some of the central themes will already be familiar. It's still well worth reading the book, though. One of my criticisms of the film was that it failed to capture all the complexities and subtleties of the book, so here's your chance to get them first hand from the original source.
One of the key achievements of The Reader lies in its pace. This is almost gentle at times and is highly evocative of the post-war era in which it is set. Although in many ways, 1950s Germany is world away from our own 21st century society, the strength of the writing and the vividness of the descriptions which Schlink conjures up means that you are very quickly immersed in his world.
Schlink has a very strong writing style which helps with the overall readability of the book. Chapters are kept relatively short and simple. This is not a book which is difficult to follow and most of the chapters tend to deal with just one or two incidents. This gives Schlink the chance to really develop his characters and surroundings, together with raising his central moral themes without either having to shoehorn them in or over-stressing them.
The Reader can be read either as an episodic book - pick it up every so often to read a bit more, or in bigger chunks. In truth, so fascinating and evocative is the book that the chances are you will want to read lots of it in one go. I was so fascinated by the gripping narrative that I devoured the whole thing in just two days.
That said, some people may disagree. After all, some people considered the slow-burning film to be rather dull and lacking in excitement and, if anything, the pace of the book is slower still. The book adds extra texture and depth, developing some of the key themes in more depth. This won't be to everyone's taste and will deter some from completing it. If you've seen the film, the following rule of thumb can be applied: If you thought it was too slow-moving, avoid the book; if you felt that the film dealt with some key issues a little too superficially, then you will find the book much more suited to your tasted.
Although originally written in German, the book has not suffered too badly in translation. The copy I read was translated by Carol Brown Janeway (I think this is the most common translation). For the most part she manages to capture the spirit of the original text, without following it so slavishly that the text emerges making only partial sense. Just occasionally, there are odd phrases which have been translated a little too literally and jar to the English-speaking ear, but on the whole, it's a very faithful and successful translation.
Where there are other problems with the text, these come from the background against which the book is set, rather than anything to do with the actual translation. There are lots of references to German culture and German literature which may pass over the heads of many non-German citizens. Similarly, references to the German Legal System can occasionally be a little confusing. Most of these references, though, are little more than background information and are not critical to the main plot, so they become minor annoyances, rather than serious complaints.
What makes the book so readable and wonderful is the tragic and touching relationship between the two main characters: Michael and his older lover Hanna. When we first meet Michael (who acts as the narrator), he is a fairly typical 15 year old. As the book progresses, he grows older. What is particularly impressive about Schlink's writing is that you genuinely feel that you are witnessing these changes in outlook and attitude. His narrative voice changes, becoming more mature, self-aware and honest with himself, rather than indulging in childhood whims and fantasies. Although the book is only around 220 pages long, you honestly feel that you have witnessed Michael's journey from adolescent to adult.
The other key character - Hanna - is harder to like. Seemingly cold and aloof, it looks as though she is manipulating Michael and using him for her own needs. Fr much of the first half of the book, she remains something of a mystery. This is a double edged sword - it gives her an interesting edge, as you want to know more, whilst at the same time making it hard to like her on the evidence of what we know. In fact, Hanna's "secrets" are not that hard to fathom, but that's not important. What's important is how they have so drastically affected the course of her life. As the book progresses and her past and her secret catches up with her, it casts a new light on her actions and she becomes a far more sympathetic character. You start to realise what a tragic life she has led and how her dark secret has affected not only her own life, but also that of others around her.
The Reader visits a period of history which, in some ways, we think we now know well. Yet The Reader casts doubt on how well we actually know it and asks some important questions about the nature of guilt. Is someone more guilty because they actively take part in events, or is everyone guilty simply by virtue of doing nothing? It makes you think about some very important issues which we probably take for granted. It shows the far-reaching impact of extraordinary events on ordinary people and how those events can destroy their lives well after they have been played out in the media spotlight.
Intelligent, gripping and thought-provoking, The Reader is finally getting the attention it deserves. It's just a shame that an excellent work of German literature has to be given the watered-down Hollywood treatment before the world sits up and takes notice.
© Copyright SWSt 2009
As I think I've said in a few of my reviews, I generally like reading the book before seeing the movie of anything. (Except in the case of The Notebook when I didn't know it was a book.. And now don't want to read the book in case it ruins the film for me!) So when I heard about The Reader, the idea intrigued me, but when discovering it was in fact a book first, I decided I would read the book before watching the film.
I only finished the book today, and must say I have very mixed opinions of the storyline, characters, and outcome.
The story sees Michael Berg, a young 15-year old boy who is taken ill one day and escorted home by a woman called Hanna. He visits her when he is recovered to thank her, and discovers that he is attracted to her. They embark on a love affair, despite the fact he is 15 and she is in her 30s.
Years later, whilst Michael is sitting in on a war trial, now a law student, he sees a familiar face at the trial - Hanna. She is being accused of some horrific war crimes which Michael cannot imagine. However, is this all a cover for something much more secret?
The book starts off in a fairly standard way. Due to the blurb on the back of the book, you are aware of what happens throughout most of the book, therefore nothing comes as a surprise until nearing the end.
As the relationship starts to progress, my opinion of Hanna worsened. Despite Michael being 15, their relationship progresses quickly, and for Michael, almost blindly. Hanna comes across as almost manipulative, as she must have realised how strongly attached Michael had become to her. The relationship appears wrong in every way possible. Although it is obvious that Michael is happy with what happens, he is only a young child, and should not be exposed to this part of the adult world.
I found it hard to sympathise with Hanna. It is clear throughout the book that there is a reason why she is the way she is. She appears needy at times, and very bad-tempered without explanation. However it is not until the end of part 3 when you discover the possible reason for her behaviour. Despite all this, in other moments, Hanna comes across as merely misunderstood. As she is questioned i court, she seems genuinely confused often asking "What would you have done?" of the Judge.
Michael also comes across in a mixed way. As a boy, you cannot blame him for his perseverance of his relationship with Hanna. At 15, what boy would not appreciate the beauty of an older woman? However, it is clear that he knows deep down it is not right, and as an adult, his views on her appear to change slightly.
It is difficult to understand fully what either of these characters get out of their relationship. It is a secret for both of them, yet they pursue it, Michael seeming particularly keen throughout. Although I am a strong believer of age not mattering, because you cannot control who you fall in love with, something about this relationship did not ring true, and left me feeling uncomfortable. I know a friend of mine who read it and felt exactly the same way, but then I know of people who feel the relationship was probably real for both of them, and just strange because of the importance of paedophilia in today's society.
Despite this, the book is well written and easy to follow. There are a few surprises along the way, however most of it can be predicted, because of the detail on the blurb at the back of the book. The characters are hard to connect with, as are any of the situations they find themselves in throughout the novel. I've read that the film is very good indeed, so I'm looking forward to watching that, and hoping that will sway me to either love or hate this book, because at the moment, I'm fairly indifferent.