Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kelly's Review of "The Reader"

Title: The Reader
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Published: Vintage, 2008 (originally 1995)
Where I Got It: Creeping around the shelves of Goodwill
Why I Read It: I refuse to watch a movie before I read the book

When fifteen year-old Michael Berg becomes sick on his way home from school one day, he is rescued by Hanna, a much older woman who cleans him up and escorts him home. When he later goes back to thank her, they begin a hasty and secret love affair. A large majority of their time spent together is simply Michael reading aloud to Hanna, literally acting as “the reader.” About six months into their affair, she simply disappears. It isn’t until several years later when Michael, now in college, finds Hanna again, in court being accused of Nazi war crimes against Jewish people.

In order to properly read and understand this book, you need to look past the fact that a thirty-six year-old woman is getting it on with her fifteen year-old boy toy. I could write an entirely separate review on the Freudism of this relationship. It is actually an unimportant part of the story, no matter how hard it is to ignore (hence the ‘icky sex’ tag).

It wasn’t until their sixth or seventh day together that Michael finally asks the woman her name. This is our first hint of how secretive Hanna is (or how dumb Michael is). She is also very moody, kicking Michael out when he says that school is pointless and hitting him when he goes to the store without telling her. Just as easily as she loses her temper, she becomes her normal passionate self. When Hanna picks up and moves away without telling Michael, he is consumed with sadness and regret. His body yearns for hers and she is all he thinks of until he learns to let go. Her memory does not follow him anymore and he can move on with his life.

When Michael next sees Hanna, he is in law school and observing a courtroom seminar dealing with Nazi war crimes. One of the defendants of interest is Hanna. Michael learns that Hanna was a concentration camp guard and how she inadvertently had a hand in the death of dozens of Jewish women. We don’t get a lot of emotional reaction from Michael, we get it through the viewpoint of the sole Jewish survivor. You would think that Hanna’s past as a Nazi guard in Auschwitz would be her most disgraceful secret, but to her, it’s not. The secret that she finds more shameful and refuses to reveal is keeping her from defending herself. The price she pays is immense.

I’m not revealing the verdict of the trial or what happens to Hanna or Michael; you can find that out for yourself. The Reader is a book full of secrets, love, guilt, and their consequences. It is written in memoir form, which makes me feel as if we lose the in-the-action feel. I am glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again.
3.5 stars.


  1. This sounds kind of fantastic! Thanks for the review.

  2. I've read this. It was good.

  3. Now that you have read the book, are you planning on seeing the movie? I've seen the movie but never read the book...

  4. I saw the movie but haven't read the book. You mention not seeing a movie until you've read the book and with Twilight, I'm doing just the opposite, first I watch the movie then read it.

    I liked the movie, The Reader, but I understand what you mean about only wanting to read it once. I got more than enough watching the film and don't think I'll read the book. Based on your review, it sounds like the film stayed pretty faithful to the story. Thanks. I'm following you now.

  5. I saw this movie and I thought it was alright!

  6. Kelly, I haven't read the book (or seen the movie) but I think you did the book justice! I've seen a lot of summaries about the book that emphasize certain elements over others, and you did a great job covering the important bits without giving too much away. Yeah, it does seem like one of those books that you'd read once but not again. It's not exactly the cheeriest novel to have on your favorites shelf!

  7. I have never heard of this movie or the movie. Glad you find this one and enjoyed it.

  8. I loved this book (and the movie!), and I'm hopping on by via the Book Blogger Hop.

    I'm a new follower.

    Here's my link:

  9. Thanks guys! It was such a small book and VERY easy to read.
    I think I will watch the movie sometime, I mean Kate Winslet did win an Oscar for her role as Hanna!

  10. I didn't much care for this book, which was disappointing... I really wanted to like it, but I had a really hard time identifying with or liking any of the characters, and especially disliked Michael. (Which is really bad because it's his story! LOL)

    Anyway, I like your thoughts on this one... Good review. :)


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