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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
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The Reader (1995)

by Bernhard Schlink

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,320299320 (3.71)320
1001 (71) 1001 books (52) 2009 (47) 20th century (85) coming of age (64) fiction (1,137) German (228) German fiction (56) German literature (170) Germany (415) guilt (56) historical fiction (183) history (51) Holocaust (397) illiteracy (109) literature (93) love (86) novel (187) Oprah (45) Oprah's Book Club (59) own (55) read (151) read in 2009 (54) relationships (40) Roman (92) romance (71) to-read (122) unread (63) war (67) WWII (385)
  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 320 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
Reading this book, the second time around, and in the context of class, I got a lot more out of it. Knowing the storyline and the "twist" while reading the book allowed me to pick up on more hints and keys to Hanna's behavior. The narrator is still hard for me to get close to (I think that is intentional), and I'm not sure if I feel he was a victim or not.

The second time around, I looked at this book and at how Hanna's lack of ability to read influenced her life choices, and ultimately led to some drastic consequences. It made me wish a little bit that I would be able to use this book as a teacher. This book has the sex and scandal that students would be drawn to, but then could also bring up the importance of literacy...would this ever be an approved book though?

Glad I read it again. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Reading this book, the second time around, and in the context of class, I got a lot more out of it. Knowing the storyline and the "twist" while reading the book allowed me to pick up on more hints and keys to Hanna's behavior. The narrator is still hard for me to get close to (I think that is intentional), and I'm not sure if I feel he was a victim or not.

The second time around, I looked at this book and at how Hanna's lack of ability to read influenced her life choices, and ultimately led to some drastic consequences. It made me wish a little bit that I would be able to use this book as a teacher. This book has the sex and scandal that students would be drawn to, but then could also bring up the importance of literacy...would this ever be an approved book though?

Glad I read it again. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
I really wanted to like this book. But I was not impressed, and I was left thinking at the end, "Oh, is that it?"

I mean, I guess I can see why so many people like it, and why Oprah picked it for her book club (even though that in no way informs my decision on whether or not to read a book), but [The Reader] just didn't do anything for me. The relationship between Michael and Hanna was creepy and emotionally abusive, and I thought adult Michael was annoying; I really had to slog through the second part of the novel. Michael briefly touches on the people in his generation demanding answers and apologies from the generation previous (the ones who were involved in all of the terrible SS/Nazi business), which I thought would have made a much more compelling story, rather than framing it around a creepy relationship that Michael just can't get over (seriously, dude, make like Elsa and let it go).

And actually, I found the character of older Hanna to be way more intriguing, so if the novel focused more on her maybe I would have liked it better. But, it is called The Reader, so there's no getting around that Michael is the main focus.

Anyway, it's not like I completely hated the book. It was well-written (or should I say, well-translated, since the book was originally written in German). I appreciated the author's/Michael's observations on the reactions of the people during the trial of the horrible events at Auschwitz, and his description of what it felt like to walk through a concentration camp (and how we can never truly grasp what is what like to be there). But, like I said, I was expecting something more, and I was disappointed. ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Jul 1, 2014 |
I've read Le Liseur twice now in its French translation from the German. The film The Reader tracks the novel quite closely, with the only significant change one that comes at the very end, when Michael visits Hanna's grave. In the film he is accompanied by his daughter. In the novel, he goes alone. The story is a disturbing one, with its ultimately unanswered questions regarding guilt, shame, betrayal and responsibility. The novel can be read as the personal story of Michael Berg and Hanna Schmitz set in post-war Germany, but it can also be read as an allegory in which Hanna represents Germany, the country itself, and the generation of the parents, those who were adults during the Hitler years. Michael represents the next generation who were children or not yet born during the war. It is the lack of an accounting, of memory on the part of the parents’ generation that ultimately victimizes Michael and future generations, as their own silence and betrayal is a product of that of parents who didn't confront the past, who just moved on. This betrayal of memory on the part of the German populace after WWII is a subject that has been effectively explored by the writer, W.G. Sebald. Michael Berg is 15 when he becomes involved with Hanna, who at 36 is 21 years his senior. He initiates the relationship, but Hanna, as the adult, may be exploiting, and in a sense raping, him nonetheless.
Hanna’s secret and her secret shame is her illiteracy, an, unexplained in the novel, handicap which determines the course of her life, including her employment as a concentration camp guard during WWII and her later condemnation and imprisonment for what she did there. In fact, Hanna ultimately admits to more responsibility than she actually had in events surrounding a terrible fire in a locked church that killed all but two of the Jewish prisoners guarded by Hanna and several other women. Rather than admit her inability to read either the accusations against her or the book written by a girl who, along with her mother, survived the fire, Hanna is sentenced to life in prison.
The course of Michael Berg’s life is determined, in turn, by his relationship with Hanna and his feelings of betrayal both of her and by her.
( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |

I wanted to like this book more than I did.

It's well written, and the description indicated to me a good foundation for a story.

The description implies that the reader will wrestle with some interesting moral dilemmas. In particular a secret the protagonist's lover, Hanna, considers more shameful than murder. And I love a good moral quandary.

However, two things are very wrong with this novel. First, it's painfully clear what Hanna's secret is from about page 35 on (and there are easy clues to it well before that). Second, that anyone considers that particular 'shame' fact worse than having been an SS guard at a concentration camp is, frankly, ridiculous.

I'm sure there's a cultural divide here. Positive actually. But, even granting that, it was too much to credit for me. I, and others I know who've read this, spent the next 125 or so pages waiting for Michael to clue in to what Hanna's secret was, which made the rest of the book very tedious. Michael's inner monologues during the trial were rendered flat because of the inept hiding of the secret combined with it being completely out of scale with Hanna's alleged crimes. He doesn't come across as contemplative, but instead as wishy-washy.

SPOILER ALERT

(Though given that I think an eight year old could figure out the secret by page 40, I'm not sure how much of a spoiler this really is.)

Hanna's secret? She's illiterate. I'm not sure what the literacy rate amongst women was in mid-20th century Germany was, but I'm sure she wasn't the only one, particularly given that Germany was just as wrecked by recession and depression in decade before WWII as any other country.

She's too ashamed by it to bring it up in her own defense in the trial - even though she faces life imprisonment. Even though the other defends use her lack of knowledge of what's going on (because, of course, she can't read any of the documents relevant to her trial) to heap guilt on her and off themselves.

That's not a moral issue. That's what we called 'stupid'. I was not wondering if it was more moral for Michael to let Hanna hang herself versus letting her secret out, I was wondering if these two people are both too stupid to do the right thing and let the court know all the facts about the case.

They are - and in Michael's case, as he was practically bludgeoned with evidence of Hanna's illiteracy - I suppose I should not have been surprised. Hanna spend's 18 years in prison.

As her release nears, things are particularly awkward. There's no tension around the question of whether they will be together after she gets out, only a question of what the nature of their non-relationship will take. ( )
  qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 258 (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

Has as a reference guide/companion

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When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. [Als ich fünfzehn war, hatte ich Gelbsucht.]
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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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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 14 descriptions

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