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Peggy Farooqi
Mum of 3 (1994, 1995, 1998)- born in East Germany --lived in UK/ Kent since 1993 -- studied criminology -- love reading / writing / travelling / needlecraft 
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5 June 2014

The Reader
Bernard Schlink
Publication Date
1995 (in Germany)


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 post-war 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?"
My review

Michael Berg is the narrator of this book. He tells his story in the form of flashbacks and it all starts when he is 15 years old. He becomes very ill with yellow fever and when he is ill in the street, a woman helps him to clean him up. Michael is drawn to her and discovers she is a 36 year old tram driver. Recovered from Yellow fever, Michael goes to her to thank her and when he sees her undressing, he becomes aroused and runs off. But he visits her again, and the two start an affair. Hannah asks Michael to read for her. One day, Hannah has vanished after seeing him in a local swimming pool with his peers. 
He will see again, seven years later. Michael is now a law student and attends a criminal trial of former Nazi war criminals. To his horror, he discovers that Hannah is one of the defendants, a former guard in a concentration camp. He will discover more secrets about Hannah. 

The book received a lot of acclaim. I have to say while I loved the 1st part of the book, I did start to struggle with it in the 2nd part (the trial). Somehow, I was expecting more to happen with those two? I can't even say what, it is clear that a reconciliation between those two was obviously completely out of question by this stage and Michael is now interested only in the criminal case against Hannah to answer some fundamental questions about guilt and Holocaust. In the 3rd part, however, it becomes clear that Michael is still deeply effected by everything which has happened between Hannah and him and at the trail. He seeks reconciliation but can't change whats happened. He wants to be there for Hannah whilst in prison and after her release, but we can guess that there is never going to be a happy end.

The two main characters - Michael and Hannah, are extremely well drawn. While the author is very careful not the make the character of Hannah 'nasty' with all the  cliches, she is still not a very likeable character and even when she is with Michael, I just feel she is somewhat cold and calculating. At the same time, there were times when I felt sorry for her. Michael is young and excitable and than grows up to be a sensible young man who questions life and learns to make decisions.

A book which will make you think, just don't expect romance in the traditional sense.

I read the German original of this book which I purchased via a book club. 

About the author:  

Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany in 1944. A professor of law at the University of Berlin and a practising judge, he is the author of the major international best-selling novel The Reader as well as several prize-winning crime novels. He lives in Bonn and Berlin.