Monday 16 March 2009

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Pages - 216

Challenges - 100+ books, A to Z author and 1% read.

I have to say I was a little wary when I took on yet another challenge in the form of the 1% Read, but I am so glad I did, because I don't think I would have got around to reading this book as quickly as I did and I thought it was wonderful.

The book is in three parts and each part deals with the relationship between an older woman,Hannah Schmitz, and Michael, a fifteen year old boy coming to terms with puberty.

The first part of the book is about the illicit and illegal affair that occurs so naturally between them. Michael is completely infatuated by Hanna, a ticket girl from the trams, who helps him when he is really sick. He cannot keep away from her and Hanna takes advantage of this situation and the two become lovers. She is everything to Michael and he will do anything she requests. They begin to spend every spare moment they have together. Their relationship follows the same pattern, they shower, they make love and then Michael reads to Hanna. She loves to hear him read and participates in all the stories he reads to her,commenting on characters and story lines.

One day almost a year after their affair begins, Hanna just disappears. Michael discovers that she had left her job and moved out of her house, with no forwarding address. Michael is heartbroken and it takes him years to get over it.

The second part of the book follows Michael's unexpected discovery of Hanna. He is a law student working on a case against people who had worked for the Nazi's during the War and were guilty of being involved in the of murders of so many Jewish people. Hanna is accused of allowing many Jewish women to die in a fire in a church, when she could have let them go. Hanna is one of a few of women charged with this, but she is completely unprepared for the trial. It then occurs to Michael, that Hanna is unable to read or write. She was unprepared for the trial, because she had not been able to read any of the information provided for her. Hanna is scared to reveal her inabilities and ends up being jailed for twenty years, because she would rather say she wrote a document that condemned her, than admit her inabilities.

The third part of the book looks at a new relationship that develops between Michael and Hanna during her prison sentence. Michael, older, divorced and wiser, starts to record books on tape for Hanna to listen to. For many years, he sends the tapes to her without any written response. Eventually she writes back to him, telling him what she enjoyed about the book and showing her new skill of writing. I won't give away the end, as I feel I have revealed so much of it already.

This story is beautifully written. Even though, you are aware that the relationship between Michael and Hanna is wrong, the way it is written shows a young boy's innocent love for an older woman.

One of the main themes of the book occurs in the second part of the book, where it deals with the Holocaust. However it doesn't just deal with the Holocaust, it also deals with how younger generations coped with the actions of their beloved families during the Holocaust. They had to come to terms with what they did and struggle to live with the terrible guilt caused by the atrocious actions of members of their own families.

The following passage explains how many must have felt.

'At the same time I ask myself, as I has already begun to ask myself back then: What should our second generation have done, what should it do with the knowledge of the horrors of the extermination of Jews? We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable, we may not inquire because to inquire is to make the horrors an object of discussion, even if the horrors themselves are not questioned, instead of accepting them as something in the face of which we can only fall silent in revulsion, shame and guilt.'

You may wonder why Hanna had become involved in the extermination of Jewish people, until you realise that she literally fell into the job, all because of her inability to read. Whenever reading and writing came up in her life, she ran away to a new start. Her life would have taken a completely different route, if she had admitted in the beginning that she was unable to read and write. You can not help but feel sorry for Hanna, because her life was destroyed because she was too proud to admit she needed help.

When discussing the title, you realise that Michael is not the main Reader of the book, but the book is actually referring to Hanna. Although she was unable to read herself, she loved books and devoured all the stories that were read aloud to her, even in the concentration camps.

I would definitely recommend that everyone read this book. It is a very powerful story, which deals with very strong issues. It is also a beautifully haunting book, that will stay in your memory, long after you have read it, showing that you cannot be held responsible for the actions of other. It had the same affect on me as the first time I watched Schlinders List back in the nineties.

Bernhard Schlink has written quite a few books, his latest book is called Homecoming. He has also produced an international best seller titled 'Flights of Love', ( short story collection) which will be added to my ever growing TBR list.

That's all for now, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings.


  1. Sounds wonderful.

    I'm having trouble reading at the moment. My head is so full of other stuff, i'm finding it difficult to get absorbed in reading and get all the other junk out of my head! But I know it will all come back to me in it's own good time. And when it does, I have a long list of books to read thanks to you! This one is definately on that list.

  2. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I only first heard of this book a month or so ago. I added it to my wish list then, but your beautiful review has really made me want to search it out much sooner. Oh my, I'm just reading too many wonderful reviews today...

  3. What a wonderful review. I'm still getting my thoughts together on this book. I liked it, but was disturbed by it as well. It certainly makes you think!

  4. "It also deals with how younger generations coped with the actions of their beloved families during the Holocaust." --> I find this especially interesting. This book sounds like a must read, and like Debi I hadn't heard of it until recently, because of the movie. I will look for it. Thank you.

  5. Great review, Viv! I saw this book at a bookstore but didn't get it. Subsequently when I do want to get it, I searched high and low for it because it's sold out everywhere. I'm continuing my 'hunt'. :)

  6. great review, this does sound like an intense read. The film verion looks good also.

  7. I started reading the books off the list as a personal challenge, but I continued reading the books because most times after I've finished one I'm left with really powerful emotions either way. It's a great feeling, finishing a great book. And most of them have been that for me.

    I read this book in high school. I think. I think Oprah had it as one of my her book club choices? I can't wait to see the movie, but I get very little chance to go to the cinema these days so it'll be the DVD for me.

  8. Great review! I kept debating whether or not I wanted to read this but now you have me convinced to try it!

  9. Great review! Definitely another one for the TBR pile.

  10. Oh I definitely must read this book. Thank you for the great review!!!


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