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Dramatic,
Insightful,
Interesting

9 reviews

The Reader
by Bernhard Schlink

Published: 1997
Paperback : 218 pages
17 members reading this now
52 clubs reading this now
36 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 9 members
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael ...
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Introduction

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

Editorial Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1999: Originally published in Switzerland, and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading, and shame in postwar Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her, and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past, and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: What should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? "We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable.... Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt? To what purpose?"

The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages. What does it mean to love those people--parents, grandparents, even lovers--who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known? And is any atonement possible through literature? Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue, and excess in any form. What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre- and postwar generations, between the guilty and the innocent, and between words and silence. --R. Ellis

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

Suggested by Members

Moral corruption
Moral decisions during war time? Do your principles change?
by eshiner (see profile) 03/11/10

. In Chapter Five of Part One, Michael muses on how sometimes we do things we have not decided to do; like smoking after deciding to quit. How does this relate to this story as a whole? How much of what Michael and Hanan do is “decided?”
Compare the rebellion of German young adults in the sixties and the American young adults of the same time. How can two cultures who such completely different issues end up behaving the same way?
Page 188: “Illiteracy is dependence. By finding the courage to learn to read and write, Hanna had advanced from dependence to independence, a step towards liberation.” What do you think of the irony that Hanna is finally liberated in prison?
by RockinRenee (see profile) 07/18/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by [email protected] (see profile) 03/03/20

Boring

 
  "snoozer"by [email protected] (see profile) 04/29/19

My club disliked this book very much. Terrible book, excellent movie!

 
  "The Reader"by Tbaker123 (see profile) 03/01/16

Interesting story. Glad to have read it. Would recommend as a quick and easy read that keeps your attention. Thought-provoking.

 
  "Unsure"by char83 (see profile) 09/23/13

I didn't totally dislike the book but I didn't like it either. Somewhere between the two. It does give you a lot to think about and could be a good discussion book. Maybe it was just me, but I felt... (read more)

 
  "Gets better the longer you read."by reading1 (see profile) 08/14/13

 
  "The Reader"by 1morechapter (see profile) 02/14/11

I liked The Reader more than I thought I would considering one of the themes. I didn’t know about the p*doph*lia aspect of it until the movie came out. I’ve wanted to read this book for ... (read more)

 
  "Interesting"by okjeepcpl (see profile) 03/12/10

This was an interesting story to say the least. It had you take a step back and think of several different things. It never really gave you any answers but it made you think.

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