Sunday 3 January 2010

Book Review: Bernhard Schlink – The Reader

I picked up this book on Kooky Little Sisters recommendation when I saw it in the quick reads section at the library (I have just been allowed back in there after hubby paid off the latest hefty fine of £15 out of a series he keeps getting landed with every time I ask him to take my books back).

The book was on my radar also partly because of the film of the same name released this year to critical acclaim.

This book is not an easy read. Schlink sets down the story of Michael Berg, a 15 year old schoolboy who has an affair with Hanna, an older woman he meets whilst recovering from hepatitis, despite knowing virtually nothing about her. The affair lasts one summer and is over abruptly and painfully. Many years later as a law student observing war trials, Michael sees Hanna in the dock charged with actions carried out during the second world war in her role as a concentration camp guard. As the trial progresses, Michael realises that Hanna is not defending herself adequately because she is hiding something.

The bulk of the book is taken up by Michael’s musings and reflections. The book is not really about the holocaust or the Nazi’s, although these are key themes, but more about the effects of these elements on the generation that followed. The question has been asked numerous times: “Did the German people know about and participate in what happened during the Holocaust?” with different answers each time. This book highlights the efforts of Michael and his contemporaries to come to terms with what happened and the fact that their parents were involved in a time when the information about the camps and death marches was not available in the way it is now.

Another theme that is explored is the effect of early experiences on the remainder of a person’s life. In this case the effect of his relationship with Hanna on the rest of Michael’s relationships throughout his life.

The book deals with a sensitive matter which inspires strong passions in people in a cool and somewhat detached way. I found it a little depressing by the end with rather too much introspection for my liking. I also felt uncomfortable with there being a Nazi as one of the main characters and out being lead to virtually sympathise with her.

1 comment:

  1. Salam wa alaykum sister
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    I watched the film which I regret as it was too graphic but it did have an important undertone of the war and that not everything is as it seems.