Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

readerThe last twenty pages of this book deeply affected me. I can’t even express it at the moment. I just wish I could take it all back and somehow unread the entire book. Then I want to read it for the very first time again…but this time somehow read it while being the person that read the last 20 pages…

This story is told by Michael Berg. It is told later on his life. He is looking back to a relationship he had with a woman named Hanna Schmitz. A woman who by one random act of kindness changes his life when he is 15 years old. Later on, he attends a trial and finds Hanna as one of the defendants.

At times this novel felt disjointed. However, the more I think about it, the more I am sure that Schlink wanted me to feel this way. This novel is told by Michael. It is his story of Hanna. Even as an older man, decades after his relationship started with Hanna, he is still unsure what she means to him. How she has changed him into the man that he has become. He understands bits of it. He can even rationalize much of it. But there is still mystery to much of it.

In some ways, I wish this story could have been told from Hanna’s voice. However, I realize that it would not be the story it was if it had been. I am both appreciative and frustrated with this knowledge.

Why did I love this book so much? At about 1/2 way through this book I was feeling very frustrated. I kept going back and forth on my feelings for Michael. At points I thought he was so unbelievably selfish. At other times I felt like he was almost a victim. At points I had the exact same feelings about Hanna herself. I was also becoming increasingly pissed off that I was not allowed to see inside of Hanna’s mind. With the last couple of chapters, none of those feelings changed….however, I was left humbled and a bit awestruck at my emotions. If I had been reading this book standing up, I might have even staggered a bit and found myself leaning up against the closest wall until I could find myself on steady feet again. It’s not that Schlink reviled anything I didn’t already know…it’s just the way that he brought it all into the light of day. Why??

Simply because this book didn’t just seem to provide answers and questions about the characters it was about. At this point…I had questions about myself. I am not even sure at this point what they are. I just know that they are bouncing back and forth within my mind, even at this moment. And much like Michael, I am not sure I will ever know the correct questions to ask. I am not sure that I will ever find the answers if I do. Much like Michael, I am not sure these questions need answered…perhaps they only need to be asked.

This novel moved me….and has given me so much to ponder…It’s a book that I *know* will stay with me for days, weeks, even years to come. One day, I will be walking down a lonely city street. The wind bitterly cold against my skin. I will be confident that I am happy and secure in my life. “The Reader” will be the furthest thing from my mind….then like a ghost of the past, Hanna will be there…walking along beside me…begging me, finally, to ask the questions just within by grasp….my mind will find itself, out of the blue, wrestling with the feelings this novel has brought to me….

Until next time

Urania xx

Buy it now The Reader