The second I picked up Schlink’s The Reader I was instantly addicted, I started it on Friday morning, just before I went to work and finished it now. Had I started this on a Sunday I would have been ready with it by the evening. It that’s good. Call it a post war novel or a romance, it has everything and it’s translation is superb.
One afternoon 15-year-old Michael Berg starts to vomit and is saved by the much older Hanna Schmitz, they embark on a physical relationship until Hanna mysteriously leaves and Michael continues with his academic life, eventually graduating in law. Throughout this time Hanna is still on his mind.
After some time Hanna is back into Micheal’s life, only this time it is in court as she is convicted of her war crimes. It is at this point that Michael discovers that Hanna is harboring a secret and it’s worse (in her opinion) than her position during as a SS guard during the Second World War. Berg then wonders if he should reveal this secret so that she’ll get a light sentence.
Unfortunately Hanna is given a hefty sentence and commits suicide by on the day she is about to be let out due to good behaviour. She leaves her legacy with Michael with instructions that he has to give it to one of the survivors who was under her ‘care’ (and is one of the witnesses in her trial). This leads to another ethical question which Berg is in the middle of.
The Reader brings out a lot of queries about the war and post war generations and whether one group of young adults should forgive the last generation for their atrocities. It also brings forth questions between love and professionalism. Berg constantly finds himself trapped in these situations and his own decisions lead to certain consequences.
The Reader is a very powerful book, one that moves you with every sentence and plot advancement and it’s ending had me reflecting on the morality that is presented in the novel. It would be interesting if anyone who has read the book agrees with Micheal’s (or the Jewish survivor’s) actions.