Category: Bernhard Schlink

book review – The Reader


When a book becomes synonymous with a film it is difficult to enjoy one without evaluating the influence of the other.

In my case I had not seen the film and picked up Bernard Schlink’s book at a charity shop a while ago. What drove me to read it was a quick flick through the first few pages. The style is taut and the chapters short.

The emotional depth has to be provided by the reader themselves as they piece together the things that are left unsaid between the 15 year old boy Michael and his 36 year old lover Hanna. The relationship is physical, lived in the gap between work and school and relatively brief in the wider scheme of things.

Of course for the boy it is a fundamental part of his growing up and his relationship lives on in the memory for the rest of his life having an impact on his marriage and other sexual entanglements.

But that is only half the story because the focus is on what the woman did during the war and the big questions of where guilt lies during war – with the individual or the system – and how different generations should react to it.

Is it possible to love someone who was responsible for hideous acts? In the end that is the struggle that destroys Michael and as he sits as a law student a few years after the affair and watches Hanna defend herself against war crime charges it is an uncomfortable experience.

What are those pushing the trials motivated by? Finding people to blame, even when the facts are vague at best, seems to be the desire to at least hold someone up as guilty to count for the debts and sins of others.

During the case Michael works out that Hanna cannot read and it is that fact that not only allows him to piece together why she relied on him to read aloud so much but why she also got prisoners in the camps to do the same. He could potentially save her when she lies but her pride is so much that she would rather go to prison than reveal her weakness. At the conclusion it is that pride that destroys her. She does not want sympathy.

In a way the reader is left working out what they feel about guilt, responsibility and the merits of chasing down people long after the event to get them to face some sort of justice. Are the Germans as a nation collectively to blame for their failure to resist the darkness of Hitler’s regime? If you answer yes then of course the individual fingering of Hanna seems to be unfair. If you believe not then the trial makes more sense but only slightly more.

A provocative book that for many will be about the power of relationships across the generations but for me was an intelligent way of looking at the consequences and reaction to some of the horrors of the Second World War.

Advertisements

book review – The Reader


When a book becomes synonymous with a film it is difficult to enjoy one without evaluating the influence of the other.

In my case I had not seen the film and picked up Bernard Schlink’s book at a charity shop a while ago. What drove me to read it was a quick flick through the first few pages. The style is taut and the chapters short.

The emotional depth has to be provided by the reader themselves as they piece together the things that are left unsaid between the 15 year old boy Michael and his 36 year old lover Hanna. The relationship is physical, lived in the gap between work and school and relatively brief in the wider scheme of things.

Of course for the boy it is a fundamental part of his growing up and his relationship lives on in the memory for the rest of his life having an impact on his marriage and other sexual entanglements.

But that is only half the story because the focus is on what the woman did during the war and the big questions of where guilt lies during war – with the individual or the system – and how different generations should react to it.

Is it possible to love someone who was responsible for hideous acts? In the end that is the struggle that destroys Michael and as he sits as a law student a few years after the affair and watches Hanna defend herself against war crime charges it is an uncomfortable experience.

What are those pushing the trials motivated by? Finding people to blame, even when the facts are vague at best, seems to be the desire to at least hold someone up as guilty to count for the debts and sins of others.

During the case Michael works out that Hanna cannot read and it is that fact that not only allows him to piece together why she relied on him to read aloud so much but why she also got prisoners in the camps to do the same. He could potentially save her when she lies but her pride is so much that she would rather go to prison than reveal her weakness. At the conclusion it is that pride that destroys her. She does not want sympathy.

In a way the reader is left working out what they feel about guilt, responsibility and the merits of chasing down people long after the event to get them to face some sort of justice. Are the Germans as a nation collectively to blame for their failure to resist the darkness of Hitler’s regime? If you answer yes then of course the individual fingering of Hanna seems to be unfair. If you believe not then the trial makes more sense but only slightly more.

A provocative book that for many will be about the power of relationships across the generations but for me was an intelligent way of looking at the consequences and reaction to some of the horrors of the Second World War.

The Reader – post III

This story ends with you choking back the tears. Not so much for Hanna’s character but the sense of what is lost by an untimely death. Those that went through the holocaust were cut down and so that theme continues years later.

After all Hanna says that the only people she feels she has to answer to are the dead.

This story is weaved brilliantly with the sense of victim hood continuing right to the very end. Michael was never one of Hanna’s victims in the camps but he ends up being damaged by her long afterwards and his sexual and marital relationships are damaged by his youthful experiences.

But this is also a book about a generation of Germans, step forward Michael’s father, that were unable to face up to the past even if they themselves were not guilty of being involved with the crimes. That sense of everyone being either a victim or guilty is something that you are encouraged to question.

That seems to be the lasting impact of the story with you wondering just where the lines between the past and the present can be drawn and when a victim becomes a persecutor and vice versa.

A review will follow soon…

The Reader – post II

The Reader

The affair continues and the reading of books after love making sessions becomes a pattern that is not broken even when Michael starts to develop friendships at school. But there comes a point where the two worlds collide and after he fails to publicly recognise Hanna she disappears.

Michael then grows up and opts to study law and when on his course concentrates on cases involving ex-Nazis. That is when he comes into contact with Hanna again. She is revealed by her tendency to get prisoners in the camp where she was a guard to read to her at night.

I am still struggling with the short chapters with a relatively shallow characterisation. The focus is the main relationship but Hanna knows a little about him and as he watches the trial it becomes clear he knows very little about her. As a reader is sometimes feels like you are watching scenes through a glass window, detached from feeling the story.

More tomorrow…

The Reader – post I

Before I get any further let me just stress that I picked this book up a while ago and this is not a case of having a knee-jerk reaction to the film. In fact when I started I was not totally aware the two were related as movies often change their name to have little similarity with the novel they are based on. But this is of course the work that looks like it might get Kate Winslet an Oscar.

The chapters are short and as a result it feels quite clipped as the story unfolds in segments with the 15 year old boy entering into an affair with a 36 year old tram conductor.

So far, around 50 or so pages in, it is difficult to get a feel for the character of the boy, Michael Berg, and the woman. He is of course a young boy who is amazed and head over heels with the sexual relationship with the woman. But as to her why would she get involved with someone like him and why would she maintain the relationship? That is presumably going to be answered but you try as a reader to look for the depth and it is not there in abundance.