Schlink, Bernhard. (p.1995). The Reader. New York; Vintage Books. 218 pages. $13.95 pbk.
ISBN #: 978-0-307-45489-8
Young Michael Berg has a passionate affair with Hanna, an older woman, only realizing her true past when she is charged with a heinous crime.
Fifteen year old Michael Berg meets Hanna, a woman twice his age, when he gets sick outside her tenement building on his way home from school. When he returns months later to thank her for her kindness, a love affair begins. For reasons known only to Hanna, she disappears. Michael does not cross paths with her again until ten years later when she is in court on charges of war crimes committed as an SS Officer.
Part I of the story is a sexual feast as experienced by a 15 year old young man who has captured the interest of an older woman. The guilt and confusion that inevitably build from the relationship affects Michael throughout the novel. Part II, ten years later, takes the story through the trial where Michael is faced with the truth of Hannah. Part III allows for the adult Michael to dissect his experiences and attempt to find meaning and justification not just for his actions but also for the actions of those Germans who are still dealing with the horrors of the previous generation.
Narrated in the first person, The Reader is a complex, beautifully written story that explores German society post World War II through the eyes of a young man. Michael’s character is simultaneously questioning and accepting of the events surrounding him ultimately shaped by his affair with Hanna, a woman he really never knew. Although some may find the subject and situations objectionable (i.e. the affair of a fifteen year old boy with a 35 year old woman), the characters portrayed are dealing with issues pertinent to the era that many may not have even considered. The writing is compelling and almost lyrical. It enhances the narrator’s inner turmoil as the story unfolds.
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Book Discussion Questions
Do you think The Reader is a love story? How would you describe Michael and Hanna’s relationship?
“So what would you have done?” (p. 111) How would you respond to this question posed by Hanna to the judge?
Do you think their is a connection between literacy and morality? Do you think Schlink is suggesting such a connection?
Reasons for selection:
The Reader is a well-known novel later made into a movie starring Kate Winslet. When I told a librarian about my RA project and need for a variety of literature, she recommended this book to me. I’m glad she did. It was not something I would have normally picked up but I was drawn into the story from the start.