Bernhard Schlink – The Reader: A book review


One must not be decieved by the size of this book, despite its two hundred something pages, there are several themes that are interwoven throughout. The story unfolds as straight forwardly as someone would go on to describe the weather. Fifteen year old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna Schmitz, a woman in her mid-thirties, who finds him sick on the street and whom she takes to her apartment to clean and tend to. This marks the begining of an unconventional year-long affair between the teenager and the young woman, who is particularly interested in hearing Michael read to her. However here is the catch, Hanna is illiterate, she cannot read or write and this is a very important aspect of the story because it determines almost all of her life’s decisions and their implications that she eventually comes to bear. The story takes place during and after the Holocaust period.

The book is simply not one which would revolve around a love affair that ensued between these two, it is much more than that. The issues raised here concern the legitimacy of morality, it’s accountability on human actions and whether a person should be considered responsible for things done or acted upon in ignorance of their actual consequences. Do we live inside the box and ignore all that exists outside or let go of conventions? It was not a book that I would read on random and enjoy because the language is translated, secondly prose loses it’s orignal intended effect when clothed in another tongue, thirdly the narration is at times clinical; lacking richness. Like the white-washed walls of an empty house the words are often stark and devoid of warmth. The Reader reads like a holocaust report, by a living corpse, that was burned by the consequences of an unconventional love affair and swallowed by the vaccume of moral guilt.


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