The Reader by Bernard Schlink

(No Series)

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

“There's no need to talk about it, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does.”

Another excellent book from Oprah's Book Club!

What stands out the most about this book is the beautifully poetic, somewhat haunting, clearly passionately felt writing style. The writer uses short chapters and the tone never alters, following the reader through the pages, heavy on reminiscing about the past, memories, and sometimes veering off into an almost dreamy viewpoint as the scenes take place. A writing style such as this serves such a tragic sort of story perfectly.

‘The Reader’ begins immediately on the cliff of falling into the relationship that is the main purpose of the book. At first glance it would seem like it would only be a minor fling, a sexual awakening for the fifteen year old protagonist. This is further hinted out by the moodiness and secrecy from the woman he falls in love with – but surprisingly his love lives on long after the relationship dies, injecting a strange, demented sort of romanticism to the novel. Even at the end, when the last pages were closed by a teary, final scene, the relationship will always be clearly important for the protagonist. It helped develop his life when he was on the brink of becoming a man, shadowing all future relationships and ambitions. Even if it is over, the foundation is cemented.

This isn’t a simple romantic wonder, though, as the layers show how wrong it all is, was, and can’t have any choice but to be. The trial was one of the best parts of the novel, revealing a secret I had already guessed on while dishing out atrocities I shuddered to learn.

What made this book even more different was the connection after the trial. It shows that, despite his learning of these secrets – whether they are awful or not – that the magic conjured when they met still continued working within his psyche.

Of course a book called ‘The Reader’ would have something to do with books. On the surface the book takes a love of reading and makes it grand, but later shows the point isn't some hypothetical, magical enjoyment of books, but is instead showing how easier it is to get buried by ignorance. Enjoyment of books gets tossed out the windows as irrelevant in light of consequences, to in the end come forth as an enjoyable delight all over again.

There was this unusual view the protagonist felt about certain sorts of novels, which I don’t necessarily agree with. Some of the experimental literature has made the most shocking, but positive, impact on a generation.
“To me it was obvious that experimental literature was experimenting with the reader, and Hanna didn’t need that and neither did I.”

Overall ‘The Reader’ shows how powerful a story can be, how it can touch the heart no matter how cold or dead the heart may seem to others, how it can revitalize, loan life in the absence of it. There was a strange love, an almost uncomfortable and somewhat lunatic connection, that illustrates how powerful human connection can become and how it can overshadow development. Even with strong emotions, even if the relationship was not pure nor good, we read and feel as the protagonist keeps casting quick glances in the past while he forges his steps into the future.

   Book Quotes:

“What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted and obeyed in a society? Or is law what must be enacted and obeyed, whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right?” 

 “Desires, memories, fears, passions form labyrinths in which we lose and find and then lose ourselves again.” 

   Oprah's Book Club:

Featured on Oprah's Book Club in 1999 

Reader Group Discussion Questions
Oprah Interview with the Author

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