Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Title/Author: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Publisher/Date published: Cossee in 2009, first published in 1995
How I got this book: bought it.
Why I read this book: I always try and read the book before I watch the movie. And I love Kate Winslet in almost any movie, so I knew I had to read this!

Goodreads summary: "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?"

I don't know what it is exactly that I expected from this book, but let's just say that it was something.. well.. more than this. Though I have no special reason for it, I always dislike reading about World War II. I guess it's my living in Holland and it all being a bit too close for comfort. I know my grandma remembered those times, but though she told me a lot of stories, she never mentioned anything about this period in her life.

This book is not set during WWII, but it is definitely a huge part of the novel. Hanna is on trial in the aftermath of it and the whole of Germany is dealing with their country's dark past. It's all rather depressing.

The affair going on between 15-year-old Michael and the much older Hanna was not as tastfully done as I would have thought somehow (though I know it's ironic that I thought it would be tastful, seeing as weirdness surrounds the age-gap) and I did not connect with either of them. I did however cheer for Hanna when she noticed Michael skipped school to be with her and told him not to come if he skipped again.

Neither of the characters is very engaging and during the trial I was just baffled at the lengts Hanna went through to protect a secret. I mean, it's just crazy! I'd rather know a little shame than rot away in prison for the rest of my days. I can imagine trials dealing with WWII crimes going the way this one did. Everybody wants to lay the blame on someone else. And there has to be someone who is punished for something a lot of people were guilty of. This is probably not just something of the past.

I did think it was sweet that Michael continued his reading to Hanna, their relationship is so complicated. And weird. And I thought it was sad that their being together influenced Michael so much throughout his life, imagine what it would have been like had he never met her that one day.

Anyway, though this book was interesting, I did not feel invested and it somehow was less than I expected. I hope the movie will be better for me.

My rating: 2,5 stars


  1. I read this when there was a huge controversy about the illicit affair when the book came out, but I have to say what stuck with me was the trial and seeing Hannah from a different point of view. I think the movie did a great job adapting the book.

  2. I had trouble connecting with the characters, too. I felt Michael was immature throughout the entire novel and that Hanna was manipulative and her desire to protect her secret was not believable for me. I think what the book tries to do symbolically is interesting. It's like their relationship symbolizes the gap between the older "guilty" generation and the younger "bearing-the-burden" generation. Who really deserves the blame? Does assigning blame equate to justice? I liked that the novel brought up these questions. But overall, I was disappointed with the book. I guess you can't like everything!