The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
I deliberated on whether or not to even include The Reader in the Reading Project.
It has all the makings of a literary book – tragedy, victimization, a sad ending. And, even as a translation, the simple, lyrical prose shines through, frequently trumping the story.
But then again, The Reader was written only a little over a decade ago, making it the most modern entry in the Reading Project. Plus the author, Bernhard Schlink is still alive, which means that I can’t rename the Reading Project READING DEAD WHITE MEN at a later date, should I have wanted to.
But it was out of my hands. The book club I recently joined had already picked The Reader as the selection for our May meeting. And since I’ve been behind schedule ever since it took me two weeks to slog through Madame Bovary, I’m taking what I can get.
The Reader, set in Germany, begins when Michael Berg is fifteen, and becomes ill with a nasty bout of hepatitis. Hanna Schmitz, thirty-six, briefly cares for the boy when she finds him vomiting on the sidewalk. Later, when Michael has recovered from his illness, he visits Hanna to thank her for her kindness. Shortly thereafter, they become lovers.
I know. Ick.
The affair lasts for some months, until the day when Hanna disappears without leaving any forwarding information. And Michael goes on, attending college, becoming a lawyer, marrying, divorcing. You know, all the good stuff. But while he’s a law student, he goes to observe a trial, and finds that Hanna is one of the defendants. It turns out that sleeping with underage boys isn’t her only crime . . . dum dum dum . . .
Despite some confusing – and unnecessary – jumping around in the time line of the story, The Reader is a crisply written story about crime and punishment, penance and redemption. I give it an A.
More on The Reading Project here.
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