A counterpointing of two stories, or a story and a history, of victim and victimizer, culpability and disavowal, indictment and extenuation...Bernhard Schlink has taken on a grievously formidable subject.... We praise books that, as we say, make us think. The Reader makes us think...about things we would rather not think about, issues which the book leaves open and we might wish to have closed one way or another.
D. J. Enright - The New York Review of Books
A formally beautiful, disturbing and finally morally devastating novel. From the first page, [The Reader] enshares both heart and mind.
Los Angeles Times
Another in the spate of soul-searching post-Holocaust German novels that have made their way here, this elegant if derivative triptych chronicles the relationship of narrator Michael Berg, a young bourgeois man who becomes a legal historian, with working-class Hanna Schmitz, 20 years his senior and (as it turns out) a former SS officer. They meet in the 1950s, when he is 15: she rescues him when he falls ill in the street from the effects of hepatitis. His thank-you visit results in months of trysts; the lovers develop a routine that involves Michael reading aloud from the German classics. Part Two opens at Hanna's trial 10 years later for war crimes: assigned by chance to observe the trial, Michael continues his strange role as her reader, sending her tapes in prison until, in Part Three, the two finally, and tragically, meet again. Some readers may object to Schlink's insistently withheld moral judgments: he never treats Hanna as just a villain. Yet this well-translated novel indisputably offers a philosophical look at the 'numbness' that settled over German culture during the war and that (Schlink seems to say) infects it to this day.
After falling ill on the street in the German town where he lives, 15-year-old Michael is helped by a woman named Hanna. When he returns to her apartment to thank her several months later, he begins a passionate love affair with her. In time, she demands that he read aloud to her before they make love, and they essay some of Germany's and the world's great literature together. One day, however, Hanna disappears without saying farewell, and Michael grieves and believes it to be his fault. He finds her again years later when, as a law student, he encounters her as the defendant in a court case. To reveal more of the plot would be unfair, but this very readable novel by German author Schlink probes the nature of love, guilt, and responsibility while painting a sympathetic portrait of Michael and an achingly complex picture of Hanna. —Towson State University, MD
Michael T. O'Pecko - Library Journal
A compact portrayal of a teenaged German boy's love affair with an emotionally remote older woman, and the troubled consequence of his discovery of who she really is and why she simultaneously needed him and rejected him. Seven years after their intimacy, university student Michael Berg accidentally learns that (now) 40ish Hannah Schmitz had concealed from him a past that reaches back to Auschwitz and had burdened her with nightmares from which her young lover was powerless to awaken her. Toward its climax, the novel becomes, fitfully, frustratingly abstract, but on balance this is a gripping psychological study that moves skillfully toward its surprising and moving conclusion.
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