23 Oct 2011
Years later, as a law student, observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to find Hanna in the dock. The woman he loved is a war criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. Hanna must answer for a horrible crime, but she is desperately concealing an even deeper secret .....
...... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 16): The outside world, the world of free time in the yard or garden or on the street, is only a distant murmur in the sickroom. Inside, a whole world of characters and stories proliferates out of the books you read.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: Not
On the face of it this wasn't a book I enjoyed. Beginning with the story of Michael Berg, 15, who is seduced by the much older (21 years older to be exact), Hanna Schmitz, the narrative then moves on to how many years later Michael follows the trial of Hanna who is accused of Nazi war crimes, before, finally, looking at just how Michael deals with the aftermath of his having found Hanna again under such circumstances.
A passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused says the blurb on the back cover. No mention then of how it is abusive and leaves Michael quite emotionally damaged - or is that just me being over sensitive?
A short book but with lots to say, underlying the central theme of first love The Reader deals with many moral issues - not just the issues regarding the sexual relationship between Michael and Hanna but also issues concerning the Holocaust, as well as the more general themes of guilt and forgiveness.
Told almost like a memoir by Michael, I would have liked to have seen Hanna have a voice, to have heard her views, to perhaps have given her a chance to explain her actions..... if indeed their could be any explanation for such atrocities.
As I said, not a book I can say I exactly enjoyed, it made very disturbing reading in places, but I'm so glad I did read it if only for the amount of soul searching I did afterwards.
Though I think this a wonderful choice for my reading groups, I'd love to be able to discuss the wealth of issues The Reader threw up, I'm not convinced just what kind of a film it would make - for it has indeed been adapted into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet.