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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink: A Review
The Reader is a novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink, first published in 1995. It tells the story of Michael Berg, a young man who falls in love with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz, who later turns out to be a former Nazi guard on trial for war crimes. The novel explores themes of guilt, shame, forgiveness, and the power of reading.
The novel is divided into three parts. In the first part, set in post-war Germany in 1958, Michael meets Hanna when he is 15 years old and she is 36. She helps him when he falls ill on his way home from school, and they begin an affair. Hanna often asks Michael to read to her from books of literature and history before they make love. Their relationship lasts for several months, until Hanna suddenly disappears without a trace.
In the second part, set in 1966, Michael is a law student who attends a trial of six former female SS guards who are accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church during a death march. To his shock, he recognizes Hanna as one of the defendants. He follows the trial closely and learns that Hanna is illiterate, which explains why she asked him to read to her. He also realizes that she is hiding this secret from the court, even though it could reduce her sentence. He struggles with his feelings for her and his moral dilemma of whether to reveal her illiteracy or not.
In the third part, set in 1988, Michael is a divorced lawyer who has a distant relationship with his daughter. He receives a letter from Hanna, who is about to be released from prison after serving 18 years. She asks him to help her find a place to live and a job. He agrees to do so, but he also decides to send her tapes of books that he reads aloud, hoping to help her learn to read and write. He visits her only once, shortly before her release date. They talk about their past and their feelings, but they also realize that they have grown apart and that there is no future for them. The next day, Michael learns that Hanna has committed suicide. She leaves behind a note and an inheritance for him to donate to a Jewish organization that supports the survivors of the Holocaust.
The Reader is a complex and provocative novel that raises questions about the nature of justice, memory, and responsibility. It also shows how reading can be a source of connection, education, and redemption. The novel has been translated into many languages and has won several awards, including the Hans Fallada Prize and the Prix Laure Bataillon. It was also adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 2008, starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.
The Reader is not only a novel about the personal relationship between Michael and Hanna, but also a novel about the historical and ethical issues that haunt the post-war German society. Schlink explores the themes of guilt, responsibility, justice, and forgiveness through the lens of the Holocaust and its aftermath. He also examines the role of reading and literature as a way of coping with trauma, learning from the past, and finding meaning in life.
One of the main questions that the novel raises is how to deal with the legacy of the Nazi era and its atrocities. How can the younger generation judge and understand the older generation that was involved in or complicit with the crimes How can the older generation face their own guilt and shame, and seek redemption or reconciliation How can the victims and survivors of the Holocaust find closure and healing Schlink does not offer easy answers to these questions, but rather invites the reader to reflect on them from different perspectives.
Another question that the novel poses is how to define and measure morality and justice. Is Hanna morally guilty for her actions as a guard, even if she was following orders and did not know any better Is she legally guilty for her role in the death of 300 women, even if she was not directly responsible for it Is she more or less guilty than her co-defendants, who lied and blamed her for everything Is Michael morally guilty for keeping silent about Hanna's illiteracy, even if he did not want to betray her Is he legally guilty for withholding evidence that could have influenced the verdict Is he more or less guilty than his fellow students and professors, who condemned Hanna without knowing her whole story
A third question that the novel explores is how to use reading and literature as a tool for personal and social transformation. How does reading affect Hanna's development as a person and a prisoner How does it help her overcome her illiteracy, ignorance, and prejudice How does it make her more aware of her own feelings, actions, and consequences How does it enable her to communicate with Michael and express her remorse How does reading affect Michael's relationship with Hanna and himself How does it help him cope with his love, anger, guilt, and grief How does it make him more empathetic, critical, and reflective How does it enable him to understand Hanna's humanity and complexity
The Reader is a novel that challenges the reader to think deeply about the moral dilemmas and historical wounds that shape human lives. It is a novel that shows how reading can be a source of connection, education, and redemption. It is a novel that asks the reader to be a reader. aa16f39245