The Reader

Title: The Reader
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Pub Date: 1995
Pages: 218
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Historical, WW2


Set in post WW2 Germany, Sophomore Michael Berg meets the alluring Hanna one afternoon after getting sick. A chance meeting that turned into a relationship that would last a lifetime.

It's in this first part of the book that lays the foundation of Michael's emotional pull with Hanna. He is mesmerized by her beauty and sexuality, giving himself completely to this older woman. She pushes and pulls him, always on the cusp of wanting more and giving more. Until one day, she packs up and leaves.

Life is just not the same for Michael. It's as though Hanna has spoiled him from other women. He grows up and begins studying law. Now, in the second part of the book, Michael meets Hanna once more. Only this time she is on trial for murder after having been identified as a guard in a concentration camp.

In the last part of the book, Michael's strained relationship leads him to a very hollow existence. He maintains contact with Hanna, but is distant, and unemotional.

My Thoughts (possible spoilers?)

The Reader is such a beautiful philosophical novel. Hanna, although an adult from the moment that we meet her, hides her child-like vulnerability. It's only toward the end of her life, after she's damaged it already, can she admit to her cracks.

And Michael, really, how infuriating can he be at times. I get the inability to come to terms with loving someone who did monstrous acts. I also get understanding why they did those acts, feeling a mixture of love, hate, and pity, and not being able to sort those emotions out, falling back into behavior that your comfortable with (in this case, reading the books onto the tape recorder). But it was the moment when he meets Hanna, the elder Hanna, and she is not the Hanna that he has in his mind, and his inability to look at her then. That's not about what Hanna did, who she is, or what she stands for. No. That's about him being ruined by the tale he had wove, the image of Hanna, maybe? Did the ending justify his behavior? Did her ending justify her behavior?

And of course the book was so much more than that. There's the unnerving feeling that I am suppose to despise Hanna for what she did, the crimes she committed, and yet I equally feel sorrow for her. And enough feelings toward her that I feel bitter toward Michael's reaction.

*sigh* Then, even while being frustrated and tormented by Michael's behavior and choices, I have another layer of emotion that understands his motives and find them valid. After all, the poor young man was only fifteen when he embarked on this love affair with a thirty-something lady.

Oh, and the reading of the novels. Am I the only one that finds that almost more intimate than the lovemaking itself?

"Again, Hanna became absorbed in the unfolding of the book. But it was different this time; she withheld her own opinions; she didn't make Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre part of her world, as she had Luise and Emilia, bu entered their world the way one sets out on a long and dazzling journey, or enters a castle which one is allowed to visit, even stay in until one feels at home, but without ever really shedding one's inhibitions. All the things I had read to her before were already familiar to me. War and Peace was new for me, too. We took the long journey together."

I really have so much more to process. I feel as though my mind keeps making jumps to the next thought without thoroughly exploring the first thought. I quite like that freedom. I'd rather not outline my reactions to The Reader because reading it often felt primal to me. My reactions to the book were solely emotional.

Yay, Nay, Eh? Yay. Most. Definitely. This definite falls in the short list of books I'd like to re-read.

I haven't seen the film adaption yet. Does it do the book justice? What were your thoughts/emotions toward Hanna and Michael?


  1. I am so glad you loved this too. It really is a beautiful book. I understand completely about how you felt about Hannah. I could not hate for things she had done, because I felt so sorry for her.

  2. I liked this book, too. Like you, I felt sorrow for Hanna. I hated what she did, and yet I didn't hate her, if that makes sense. And I agree, the reading aloud is just as intimate as the physical lovemaking. And finally, yes, I saw the movie, and I was disappointed. Although everyone I have talked to liked it, so among my small circle of acquaintances, I was in the minority. So if you watch it, I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Whose tragedy it is, what should I say, Hanna’s? Or maybe the entire human, we are so narrow to forget or to forgive, how can we disdain Hanna? While how many Hanna it was in War World2? Countless! Why should she bear the entire fault for the history? And how could she bear that?
    Again, Hanna is just guard.
    And, what you would do?

  4. Vivienne - I was surprised at how moved I was, in fact.

    Charley - Exactly! I'm not anxious about watching the movie. I'm sure it'll wait.

    Replicajewelry - I think you make some really good points. I especially liked how Hanna asked the judge that same question.

  5. I've had my eye on this book for a while. It certainly seems like it gives you a lot to think about. I want to try to read this one before I see the movie, but we'll see how that goes. I'll get your review up on War Through the Generations soon.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  6. I have this on my shelf and have not read it yet. Thanks for giving enough info on this book to make me take it off the shelf when i get back home. :)

  7. Anna - I'm still holding out on the movie. I want to give it some time, just in case the film doesn't live up to my expectations. I doubt that will be a problem since Blanchett is in it.

    Sheila - Oooh, I can't wait to hear your review!


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