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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader (1995)

by Bernhard Schlink

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,212None323 (3.71)316
1001 (70) 1001 books (52) 2009 (47) 20th century (85) coming of age (64) fiction (1,130) German (225) German fiction (54) German literature (170) Germany (413) guilt (53) historical (41) historical fiction (178) history (51) Holocaust (394) illiteracy (108) literature (92) love (86) novel (185) Oprah (45) Oprah's Book Club (58) own (53) read (150) read in 2009 (54) Roman (92) romance (70) to-read (117) unread (63) war (66) WWII (382)
  1. 82
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (bookcrazyblog, lucyknows)
    bookcrazyblog: Though book thief is understood to be Teen-read, it is deep and enthralling. If you liked The Reader for anything beyond its sensuality in the first part, you will love Book Thief
    lucyknows: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak may linked with The Reader by Bernhard Schlink using the themes of reading, Nazi Germany and death. You could also pair it with the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. Atonement by Ian McEwan could work as well because of the young protagonists, war, and reading.… (more)
  2. 20
    In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS by Uwe Timm (Tinwara)
    Tinwara: Autobiographical account that also deals with the post war generation in Germany, trying to come to an understanding of how loved persons can make the wrong decisions.
  3. 10
    Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco (2810michael)
  4. 10
    Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (Booksloth)
  5. 00
    Before I Knew Him by Anna Ralph (1Owlette)
  6. 00
    Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1Owlette)
  7. 00
    Those who save us by Jenna Blum (bnbookgirl)
    bnbookgirl: One of my top ten fav's.
  8. 01
    Berlin by Pierre Frei (Johanna11)
    Johanna11: Although the books are very different in many respects, both are about Berlin after WWII and about Germans during WWII and after.
  9. 01
    Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (Cecilturtle)
  10. 12
    Close Range by Annie Proulx (1Owlette)
    1Owlette: Although very different in many ways, [The Reader] and [Brokeback Mountain] are both similarly devastating and concentrated in their impact.
  11. 01
    Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: The Reader could be successfully paired with Enduring Love for English Studies. In addition either book could also be be paired with the film The Talented Mr Ripley under the theme of obsession

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» See also 316 mentions

English (254)  Spanish (9)  Dutch (8)  German (5)  French (4)  Finnish (3)  Swedish (2)  Catalan (2)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Korean (1)  All languages (293)
Showing 1-5 of 254 (next | show all)
A thoroughly captivating and powerful read packed into a mere 218 pages! ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
A thoroughly captivating and powerful read packed into a mere 218 pages! ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Haunting story of woman that first learned to read and write in prison. How would her story have been different otherwise. The woman went on trial as one of the SS guards that were responsible for the death of many women prisoners on a "death march." The story is told by a young boy (15, when he first met Hannah), that was her lover / reader. Many, many questions that you don't get away from easily. ( )
  Pmaurer | Mar 23, 2014 |
Good book, but I had a hard time finding either of the main characters sympathetic. ( )
  joyhclark | Mar 13, 2014 |
This fine novel addresses better than anything I’ve read the profound moral difficulties facing the post-WWII generation of Germans. How should they view the dark period of their recent history? How is reconciliation possible for a people faced with the horrors of their collective past? Is there even such a thing as collective guilt that accrues to an entire nation after the events? How do they engage in their daily lives, in their contemporary society, with a generation (their parents!) whose active participation or passive by-standing allowed the destruction of a part of their society? The novel points out that there are no answers to this dilemma that are not full of anguish.

When assessing the Nazi era one of the most critical questions to weigh is how was it possible for entire people be led down the extreme paths taken by the Nazi leadership? It is palpably untrue that the answer is that a tyrannical regime coerced a cowering populace to take these actions. Many, many Germans accepted the principles underlying the Nazi’s policies and programs. Many millions actively participated in the actions that emanated from those principles. Many also, even if they were skeptical or opposed, knew of the crimes and did nothing to express their opposition. So, as this awareness took root in the post-war society, how were they to understand it and what were they to do about it?

Michael Berg as a teenage boy encounters a woman more than twice his age, old enough to be his mother. Berg was in a vulnerable state recovering from a serious illness as well as experiencing the sexual angst common to adolescents. Certainly he stands for state of the German psyche immediately following the war. Berg and Hanna Schmitz fall into a “love” relationship with a strong sexual component. Hanna is a bit mysterious about her past. They develop a ritual during their encounters where he reads to her prior to their sexual relations. It is clear that, while she is no doubt exploiting him, they are quite mutually dependent on each other.

Suddenly one day, Hanna disappears without a trace. Berg moves on with his life, but always worries about whether he has betrayed Hanna by not openly acknowledging their relationship. He felt he owed her some loyalty and commitment that he did not fully grant. Some years later as a requirement for a university seminar he attends a criminal trial of female concentration camp guards. He is shocked to see that Hanna is one of the defendants. She had volunteered during the war to leave a good job to serve in the SS and was involved in the murders of Jews, including an incident during one of the notorious death marches where prisoners locked in a church were allowed to perish in a fire with no attempts to free them. In the trial, Hanna does not defend herself from charges by the co-defendants that she was the leader of the group and thus more responsible for the deaths. (Also at the trial, the local villagers portray themselves as knowing what was happening, but helpless to intervene.) But, as her somewhat odd defense unfolds Berg is suddenly struck with the revelation that Hanna is illiterate; she cannot read or write. This explains why his reading to her was so important and why she avoids any defense that will expose her illiteracy. Notwithstanding this aspect of Hanna, Berg describes his reaction to her crimes and the overwhelmingly devastating impact of what she and thousands of her contemporaries visited on others as one of “numbness”. He could not feel the anguish that these crimes, carried out by his lover, should seem to bring out. Here again, his reaction, his “numbness” speaks of feelings of the nation; the numbness doesn’t reflect rejection of the enormity of the matter, it affirms it. Even worse, Berg comes to understand that Hanna’s decision to participate was not engendered by moral depravity, but rather stemmed from strategies that she felt she needed to disguise her disability, to protect her esteem. That, in a disturbing sense, makes the “Hanna’s” in German society who supported the Nazi’s plans even more morally troubling.

When looked at from this perspective, this ambiguity about how to understand responsibility and fix accountability becomes greatly more complex; it would be so much easier if the perpetrators were simply intrinsically evil persons. Thus, the trial and punishment of Hanna and many like her are necessary but massively insufficient measures to atone for the monstrous past. But, how does one? The Germans have struggled with this and are doing so to this day. Without revealing the ending, the events portrayed at the book’s ending remind us that bringing to closure the meaning of the past, moving on to a place of comfortable reconciliation, is not to be expected. ( )
  stevesmits | Mar 7, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 254 (next | show all)
What starts out as a story of sexual awakening, something that Colette might have written, a ''Cherie and the Last of Cherie'' set in Germany after the war, is suddenly darkened by history and tragic secrets. In the end, one is both moved and disturbed, saddened and confused, and, above all, powerfully affected by a tale that seems to bear with it the weight of truth.
Schlink's daring fusion of 19th-century post-romantic, post-fairy-tale models with the awful history of the 20th century makes for a moving, suggestive and ultimately hopeful work, an original contribution to the impossible genre with the questionable name of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, ''coming to terms with the past.''

» Add other authors (33 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernhard Schlinkprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Janeway, Carol BrownTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirchner, Ernst LudwigCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lien, ToroddTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. [Als ich fünfzehn war, hatte ich Gelbsucht.]
Being ill when you are a child or growing up is such an enchanted interlude!
When rescue came, it was almost an assault. The woman seized my arm and pulled me through the dark entryway into the courtyard.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Original German Title: Der Vorleser
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Book description
A parable of German guilt and atonement and a love story of stunning power.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375707972, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1999: 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 postwar 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?"

The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages. What does it mean to love those people--parents, grandparents, even lovers--who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known? And is any atonement possible through literature? Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue, and excess in any form. What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre- and postwar generations, between the guilty and the innocent, and between words and silence. --R. Ellis

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:56 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Schoolboy Michael Berg, 15, meets an older woman and they have an affair, which she breaks off and disappears. Seven years later Berg, now a law student attending a trial, sees her in the dock, accused in a crime dating back to World War II and the death camp at Auschwitz.… (more)

» see all 13 descriptions

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