Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Book is the Only Mortality...

The Reader
By Bernhard Schlink

Year: 1997

Don't let the Oprah's Book Club sticker fool you, luckily this is not a book whose sole audience is people who are willing to read simply because a celebrity tells them to. No, Lucky for both the reader of this novel and for the reviewer, judging a book solely by the fact that a talk show host picked this particular book as an entry into her 'collection' is a crime. The Reader is a book that begs to be read and will no doubt provoke discussion once it has been read.

The book starts sometime after WWII in Germany and involves a young man by the name of Michael Berg. Michael is fifteen at the beginning of the story and serves as our narrator. From literally the first sentence, we learn that Michael at fifteen gets hepatitis and falls ill under it. On the way to school one day, he gets sick and is aided by an anonymous woman, some stranger who appears at the nick of time to clean up and mend him afterwards. However, to Michael, seeing her only that one time without thanking her is a crime. And so he goes to her house in lieu of attending school to see this mysterious woman. It is not long before Michael and the woman, who we learn is named Hanna Schmitz, embark of a passionate and heated relationship. While sex is a key part in their relationship, time and time again Hanna will ask Michael to read to her out loud, something that though I won't spoil proves to be a key part in the second and third acts of the book.

However, like the seasons, their relationship ends shortly with Hanna vanishing one day, where she goes or where she is heading is unclear to Michael, but it is only time before we learn where. A court perhaps. For we shortly thereafter learn that Hanna during the war worked with the SS and was responsible for the death of hundreds of women and children.

The second part of the novel details the trial and Michael realizing who Hanna truly was. What could prove to be a stale courtroom drama is a morality tale at the core. Michael only knows this woman from their love affair and it is a while before he can fully wrap his head around what she has done. Again, not to give anything away, but one may wonder if he ever does. During this trial, Michael is confused as to why Hanna, who he knew as a brazen and spirited woman falls upon deaf ears when attending the trial. Maybe she is hiding something, something that she is not only ashamed of but may be crucial.

Michael spends the remainder of the book picking up the pieces to his life and to the life he and Hanna had. He takes journeys to come to terms with everything he has spent the book dealing with. He wants to hate her for being such a violent and cold criminal, but he cannot. While what they did was illegal, she being more than twice his age, to the protagonist, it was not a crime, it was passionate love. Whether we agree with him or not is all up to our own personal beliefs.

Though being short on length, The Reader is a very dense book. The language may seem simple, but it is straightforward and truly captivating. There is so much going on in this book that a mere synopsis will do the novel no justice. Simply sitting down and reading is the best way to handle the book, to let it sink in and take control of you. I personally found it to be a magnificent book, one that challenged the reader with not only the core story, loved ones who hurt us, but also the morals and themes it brings up. Atonement, redemption, forgiveness, right, wrong, love and death. Threading everything together and creating a delicate and powerful novel, Schlink proves that even romantic tales can have deeper meanings. That books can truly make you feel for its characters and that you yourself can get inside the heads of its main players. While many have this talent, so few can truly let the story envelop and raise morals. Once you turn the final page, you will be satisfied.

*A note to people intrigued by this book: Ignore Amazon! It praises the book to the point where the novel's twist if you will is exposed. It is key to let the book speak for itself.

Well, I'll step of my soapbox and let the novel to the talking.