Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1999:
Originally published in Switzerland, and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader
is a brief tale about sex, love, reading, and shame in postwar Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her, and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past, and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: What should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? "We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable.... Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt? To what purpose?"
The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages. What does it mean to love those people--parents, grandparents, even lovers--who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known? And is any atonement possible through literature? Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue, and excess in any form. What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre- and postwar generations, between the guilty and the innocent, and between words and silence. --R. Ellis
From School Library Journal
YA. Michael Berg, 15, is on his way home from high school in post-World War II Germany when he becomes ill and is befriended by a woman who takes him home. When he recovers from hepatitis many weeks later, he dutifully takes the 40-year-old Hanna flowers in appreciation, and the two become lovers. The relationship, at first purely physical, deepens when Hanna takes an interest in the young man's education, insisting that he study hard and attend classes. Soon, meetings take on a more meaningful routine in which after lovemaking Michael reads aloud from the German classics. There are hints of Hanna's darker side: one inexplicable moment of violence over a minor misunderstanding, and the fact that the boy knows nothing of her life other than that she collects tickets on the streetcar. Content with their arrangement, Michael is only too willing to overlook Hanna's secrets. She leaves the city abruptly and mysteriously, and he does not see her again until, as a law student, he sits in on her case when she is being tried as a Nazi criminal. [...] The theme of good versus evil and the question of moral responsibility are eloquently presented in this spare coming-of-age story that's sure to inspire questions and passionate discussion. —Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.