The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Publication Date: 1997 (United States)
Categories: Literary, Historical Fiction
Source: My own copy
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.
I watched the movie before I read the book. That is never a smart move but it was especially dimwitted in this case. In my defense I didn’t know the movie was based on a book. How did I not know that?
The big secret wasn’t so secret. I already knew the big reveal. It didn’t ruin the book for me but I did read it from a different perspective since I knew what was coming.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more conflicted about a book. The relationship between Michael and Hanna is wrong in every way and yet there is something beautiful about it. Hanna’s past actions cannot be excused and yet I felt pity for her.
This slim volume is packed with big messages. There isn’t much more that I can say without laying out a bunch of spoilers. I don’t want to do that. If you haven’t read this you should. Take a bit of advice? Don’t see the movie first.