Review: The Reader — Bernhard Schlink

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To Go: 99

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink

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One of my resolutions this year is to try to write better book reviews. So I’m going to stop using the back-of-the-book blurbs as crutches, and really try to improve my writing. Let’s all cross our fingers that this is effective.

If you recall, The Reader was almost my 100th book of 2012, before I decided to read Everyman by Philip Roth. I thought that it would make a good first book for 2013. It’s also been a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while, so that I could watch the movie and compare (I also want to do the same with Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates). Now I can!

The Reader follows Michael Berg, a German teenager struck ill by hepatitis on his way home from school. When Hanna Schmitz, a woman twice his age, helps him to recover, she quickly becomes his lover, who he often reads to. He is thrilled by their relationship but left puzzled by Hanna’s elliptical past. When she inexplicably disappears, he spends years in a state of numbness.

When Michael sees Hanna again, he’s a young law student and she’s a defendant on trial for crimes she committed when she was a guard in a concentration camp. Throughout the trial she refuses, or fails, to explain herself properly, leaving Michael wondering if Hanna is hiding something she believes to be more shameful than murder.

The Reader is an introspective novel that examines the guilt and culpability of German citizens post-WWII: were they guilty for knowing someone, or for loving someone involved with Naziism and concentration camps? It is a question that Michael repeatedly asks himself, when cannot make himself detest Hanna for her past life. It also paints a vivid and heartbreaking picture of illiteracy, and the lengths people will go to in order to hide it from others.

Next book: I honestly have no idea. Most likely The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve or Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile.

– Kelsey

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