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Dramatic,
Interesting,
Insightful

51 reviews

The Storyteller
by Jodi Picoult

Published: 2013-02-26
Hardcover : 480 pages
73 members reading this now
136 clubs reading this now
58 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 48 of 51 members
Some stories live forever . . .

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, ...

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Introduction

Some stories live forever . . .

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.

Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?

In this searingly honest novel, Jodi Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Sage
On the second Thursday of the month, Mrs. Dombrowski brings her dead husband to our therapy group.
It’s just past 3PM, and most of us are still filling our paper cups with bad coffee. I’ve brought a plate of baked goods – last week, Stuart told me that the reason he keeps coming to Helping Hands isn’t for the grief counseling but for my butterscotch pecan muffins – and just as I am setting them down, Mrs. Dumbrowski shyly nods toward the urn she is holding. “This,” she tells me, “is Herb. Herbie, meet Sage. She’s the one I told you about, the baker.” ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The Storyteller opens with a story within a story: the gripping narrative that Minka Singer composes: first as a young student in Lodz, then from the ghetto where her family finds itself exiled, and finally, during her imprisonment at Auschwitz. How does the tale of Ania and Aleksander and Casmir Lubov intersect with the plot of the larger novel? In what ways does this fantastical tale of two brothers and the myth of the upior connect with the brutality of the Holocaust and the ongoing hunt for Nazi war criminals?

2. “Josef Weber is as close as you can get to being canonized while you’re still alive. Everyone in Westerbrook knows him…[h]e’s everyone’s adoptive cuddly grandfather.” (p. 22) How does Mary’s estimation of Josef Weber square with what Sage learns of him? How is Josef Weber’s public persona incompatible with the truths that he reveals to Sage? To what extent is it possible for someone who hides a terrible secret to be so seemingly good?

3. By way of explaining her self-imposed solitude, Sage reveals her dramatic facial scar to Josef Weber, in spite of her general embarrassment about her disfigurement. What is it about Josef Weber that Sage finds herself drawn to? To what extent does the genesis of their friendship seem entirely coincidental? At what point in the novel does Sage start being his friend and at what point does she stop?

4. “One of the first things Adam told me was that I was pretty, which should have been my first clue that he was a liar.” (p. 25) Is Sage’s extramarital relationship with Adam consistent with her character’s values? What does their affair offer her? To what extent does Adam’s love for Sage seem genuine? How does he seem to embody the qualities of the “liar” that Sage calls him?

5. “The reason that we go to meet the people who bring us tips about potential Nazis is so that we can make sure they aren’t nuts.” (p. 213) How does Leo Stein’s personality come across in the chapters in the book that he narrates? Why does Leo Stein find Sage Singer irresistible when he first meets her? How does Sage’s on again/off again relationship with Adam complicate her feelings for Leo?

6. “And why does it make me sick to hear him label me; to think that, after all this time, Josef would still feel that one Jew is interchangeable for another?” (p. 61) How do you interpret Josef’s interest in Sage’s Jewish heritage? Given that Sage does not self-identify as a Jew, and does not even believe in God, is she any less qualified to help Josef carry out his death? To what degree does the logic of Josef’s plan hinge on Sage’s being a Jew?

7. “I knew that what the Hauptscharführer saw in my book was…an allegory, a way to understand the complicated relationship between himself and his brother…[i]f one brother was a monster, did it follow that the other had to be one too?” (p. 382) What do Franz and Reiner Hartmann’s gestures toward Minka reveal about their true characters as individuals? Why does Josef Weber choose to lie about his identity (twice) to Sage? To what extent does Josef’s decision mirror that of Aleks Lubov, who chooses to protect the identity of his brother, Casmir, as the monster who terrorizes the village in Minka’s upior story?

8. How do Josef Weber’s recollections of life during the war compare to the memories of Sage’s grandmother, Minka? How did their witnessing so much death up close impact them, respectively, as perpetrator and survivor of the Holocaust? Why did both of them choose to keep details of this period of their life a secret from those closest to them for so long? How did their stories impact you as a reader?

9. “I started to pull the hem of the sweater, so that the weave unraveled. I rolled the yarn up around my arm like a bandage, a tourniquet for a soul that was bleeding out.” (p. 339) How does Minka react when she discovers her father’s bag among the cast-off belongings of Jews condemned to the gas chambers? What does this moment mark in her young life? How does her knowledge of German save her from a worse punishment for wanton destruction of property?

10. As she sorts and separates the belongings of the murdered victims of Auschwitz, Minka secretly collects the cast-off photographs of people who have been condemned to die. What does her risking severe punishment and the possibility of death in order to keep other people’s memories intact, reveal about her need to salvage and preserve something from destruction? Were you surprised when these photographs reappeared in the novel at the book’s conclusion?

11. Why does Sage decide to take justice into her own hands and grant Josef Weber his dying wish? How did you feel upon discovering that Sage was misled by Weber about his true identity? To what extent does Sage seem to forgive Weber for his actions? Why does Sage conceal her behavior from Leo Stein, and to what extent does her behavior seem rational and understandable, given all that she has endured—and lost—herself?

12. There are many storytellers complicit in the creation of this novel—the author, Jodi Picoult; Sage’s grandmother, Minka; Josef Weber, a.k.a. Franz Hartmann; Sage Singer, the protagonist who shapes the narrative through her actions; the many nameless victims of the Holocaust; even the reader, who constructs his or her own interpretation of these multiple narratives. Why do you think Jodi Picoult chose this title for her novel? How does the novel’s conclusion allow the reader to participate actively in the process of storytelling?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

Suggested by Members

Why do you think the author gave each character its own type style (font)?
How do you think the relationship between Leo and
by cawatchins@aol.com (see profile) 04/15/16

Can you imagine having everything you had ripped from your arms? Family? Friends? Work?
Would you recommend this book and for what age level? High school summer reading?
by mlj1954 (see profile) 12/18/14

Does one ever truly regret evil actions that was committed in the past?
How could Sage love/hate Josef at the same time?
How was the story written by the grandmother a metaphor for the life she had lived as a Jew in the concentration camp?
by bmullinax (see profile) 06/24/14

We had 57 discussion questions from an online book guide. Wow! Too many!
by Deemann11 (see profile) 05/29/13

The motivations of the different important persons is a good topic of discussion. Whether Sage did
the right thing in the end. Why did the grandmother keep silent all those years. Do you think it was a
good idea? What are the implications of Sage's final acts?
by judycocherell (see profile) 05/22/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

I would not recommend my Jewish friends to read this.
by TXCOLITCHICK (see profile) 05/15/15
Graphic genocide is a tough topic to read. Especially to those who lost all of their family during or prior to WWll just because those family members (Jews and non-Jews)did not conform with the Nazi regime or were not Arian-enough in appearance.
Very well written but a tough read because of all the horror!
by elainebrush (see profile) 05/14/15
Bread
by Farm (see profile) 02/03/15
We had a very fancy bread with a chocolate filling. It was wonderful.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Not what I expected"by BookDivasReads (see profile) 05/17/16

I'm definitely in the minority with this one as the vast majority of my book group members enjoyed this book. I felt the religious aspects of the book were trivialized and dealt with in a manner that can... (read more)

 
  "The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult"by cawatchins@aol.com (see profile) 04/15/16

 
  "Non-stop Drama"by Lisagoodroad (see profile) 03/11/16

This was an awesome book. Picoult is an amazing writer the way she can take different points of views in the story but still intertwine them so beautifully. The amazing details she created in my mind of... (read more)

 
  "Who can you forgive? Will you?"by mistyviolet (see profile) 01/30/16

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult
A story within a story within a story is the only way to quickly describe THE STORYTELLER. There are three storytellers -- Sage, a baker, who carries guilt
... (read more)

 
by Kimmieart (see profile) 09/09/15

 
by Terimckinnon (see profile) 05/22/15

 
  "The Storyteller"by TXCOLITCHICK (see profile) 05/15/15

The author did her homework with the genocide in the death camps, Nazi SS intimidation, the propaganda of the Nazi regime, and the correlation with an evil such as vampires.

 
  "The Storyteller"by elainebrush (see profile) 05/14/15

Very compelling but sad with real stories of the what the SS did to the prisoners in the concentration camps during WW11.

 
by graciesheart (see profile) 02/10/15

 
  "The Storyteller"by Farm (see profile) 02/03/15

This book was a real eye opener.

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