833: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

by Gerard


833.914: Schlink, Bernhard. The Reader. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway. London: Orion House, 1998. 218 pp. ISBN 0-75380-470-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 830: Literatures of Germanic languages
  • 833: German fiction
  • 833.9: Authors born from 1900 to present
  • 833.91: Authors born from 1900 to 1990
  • 833.914: Authors born from 1945 to 1990

While suffering from hepatitis at the age of fifteen, Michael Berg gets ill in the streets of Bern. Hanna, a woman twice his age, finds him and helps him compose himself in order to get home safely. From there starts a wild, tortuous, and sad love affair that haunts both Michael and the reader. Hanna and Michael spend countless hours together, and she encourages him to read to her as much as possible. One day, though, she disappears without a trace. When he finds her years later, she is standing trial as a former guard at a Nazi concentration camp, and the repercussions of this profession drive the second half of the book. Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader is a look the nuances of societal shame versus legal guilt and the affect that has on post-WWII German youth.

I don’t want to give too much away, but Schlink hits all the bildungsroman milestones without being overly telegraphed. His touching approach to the complexity surrounding the Holocaust, the concentration camps, and their workers is about as deft as one could hope for. It feels in many ways like a young adult novel, but never condescends to the reader. Oddly enough, the shame of being a Nazi guard is second only to an even greater shame (which I won’t reveal here). It reads fast, but stays with you for a while. If you’ve a free afternoon, give this one a read.