Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Reader - A Book Review in Threes

I was asked by a few of you to give a review of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. So, here it is in a shamelessly stolen format. Thanks, Travis! (Go visit Travis’ blog, it’s awesome!)

The Reader is the story of a young Michael Berg. At fifteen he gets sick on his way home from school, and is rescued by Hanna, a woman more than twice his age. They become lovers until she disappears.

Michael is haunted by Hanna’s disappearance and compares every lover he has to her, and none measure up to Hanna. Years later, Michaels sees Hanna again. He is a law student sitting in on a case of Nazi guards accused of horrible crimes, and she is one of the defendants. During the trial, she refuses to defend herself against the accusations. Michael becomes obsessed with her, but is confused by the inconsistencies of her testimony. He knows she is hiding something.

After the trial, Michael is consumed by his thoughts of Hanna, until he figures out a way to continue their relationship, and to try to put the past to rest.

3 Reasons To Like This Book:

1. The Reader is a quick read, it took me about a day, but it is still emotionally engaging.

2. There is a lot of literature dealing with WWII, but most is from the Jewish and Polish perspective. There isn’t a lot about post-war Germany. The Reader shows a slice of the emotions and reasoning from a character that is passionate about the wrongs done by his country, but also conflicted about his feeling for one of the perpetrators.

3.The book is filled with deeper themes – Michael and Hanna’s relationship, the impact of the Nazis on Germany, how love and loss change a person. Because all of these themes are brought about subtly, it doesn’t feel like you are being beat over the head with them.

3 Reasons Not To Like This Book:

1. The author is very descriptive and occasionally talks in circles, making some passages overly descript and almost confusing.

2. You don’t enjoy reading in the first person. This annoys some people since they don’t know what other characters are thinking and feeling. With this book, you only get Michael Berg’s perspective on things.

3. You aren’t interested in the far reaching ramifications of war, or don’t like well written, sensitive reading material.

3 Lines beginning with the 3rd sentence on page 33 of the novel:

I don’t mean to say she lacked tenderness and didn’t give me pleasure. But she did it for her own playful enjoyment, until I learned to take possession of her too. That came later.

There was a sentence in the book that was incredibly powerful for me. It is on the next to last page of the novel and sums up life, love and loss very well.

The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive.


Barbara Martin said...

Very nicely done, Crystal. This would be a book for me to immerse myself in as I tend to enjoy well described scenes and situations.

Travis Erwin said...

I enjoyed this book when i read it a few years back. I think they recently made a movie based on it but I haven't seen it or heard much else about it.

I did know a few people who disliked the book and described it as condoning pedophilia.