Bernhard Schlink (translated by Carol Brown Janeway)
What it says about the book on the back cover
‘Bernhard Schlink’s extraordinary novel The Reader is a compelling meditation on the connections between Germany’s past and its present, dramatised with extreme emotional intelligence as the story of a relationship between the narrator and an older woman. It has won deserved praise across Europe for the tact and power with which it handles its material, both erotic and philosophical’ Independent Saturday Magazine.
‘Leaps national boundaries and speaks straight to the heart… a moving, suggestive and ultimately hopeful work’ New York Times.
‘Readers of this book- thousands one hopes – will understand the nature of atonement when they have finished it’ Daily Telegraph.
‘Deeply moving, sensitive enough to make me wince,, a Holocaust novel, but light years away from the common run’ Sunday Telegraph.
‘The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is the German novel I have been waiting for: It objectifies the Holocaust and legitmately makes all mankind responsible’ Sir Peter Hall, Observer.
What made me pick up the book?
Like many books, some have gone on to become movies that have either enhanced the book or have tarnished its reputation by being a rather dead beat film. In The Reader, I saw the film way before I read the book. I liked the film and took an interest in it because it starred Kate Winslet, an English actress I am fond of and who has played many roles and the fact it was a film that was based on actual events (World War 2, The Holocaust). Although the story is fictional, it gave us a glimpse into what life was like during war times and for those who were German. Too often we watch and read books on the Jews but this book gives us a taste of what it was like being German and how a relationship develops between a young teenager and an older woman.
About the Book
Germany’s past and its present are highlighted in a story that teaches us about a German teenage boy who falls in love with an older woman. The teenager is sick and the older woman reaches out to him, cleans him up and then sends him home. The teenager never forgets what she has done for him and goes in search to look for the woman’s home and to deliver flowers as a way of thanking her while he is in recovery. Over time he comes back to her, he learns from her, he matures, loosing his virginity to which his family have no idea of the relationship that has evolved between the teenager and an unknown woman. This book is made up of three parts and each are told through the eyes of the narrator (the teenager) from Blumenstrasse who grows to love a woman from Bahnhofstrasse.
Is this book worth buying?
The Reader shows compassion, love, hate, frustration and forgiveness all under the one umbrella. It teaches us of a teenager who has many things going for him, a good home, food on the table, good schooling to a woman of simple means and who lives day to day and gets by in her mundane life working as a tram conductor not being able to read nor write. The book is indeed beautiful because it is told simply and fluidly. Although the work has been translated, it is a refreshing tale of years gone by that has been brought up to the present time. In part one, we begin to unravel how the narrator and the woman meet, the sexual tension between them and the frustrations of Michael (the teenager), who is coming to grips with his sexuality while being seduced and entranced by an older woman (Hanna) that he cannot talk with others about. And then Hanna, aloof and somewhat distant towards Michael often putting him down, physically abusing him, questions left unanswered, with Hanna’s back turned failing to give clues to the teenager on her true identity.
The Reader has many twists and turns and makes you wonder what is wrong and why Hanna acts the way that she does. If I had not seen the film, I would have needed to read more into the book to appreciate what lies deep within the writing and the reviews from its back cover. With the exception of The Independent newspaper review, there is little to suggest what the book is really about. Perhaps the German version may say something but nevertheless this is indeed a perfect book to read.
“When we open ourselves
you yourself to me and I myself to you,
when we submerge
you into me and I into you
when we vanish
into me you and into you I
am I me
and you are you.”
Quote from “The Reader” Bernhard Schlink
“… She didn’t know it was my birthday. When I asked her about hers, and she told me it was the twenty-first of October, she hadn’t asked me when mine was. She was also no more bad-tempered than she always was when she was exhausted. But I was annoyed by her bad temper, and I wanted to be somewhere else, at the pool, away with my classmates, swept up in the exuberance of our talk, our banter, our games, and our flirtations…” (Schlink, 1997).