Volume 93, Issue x
Wednesday, March 18, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Schlink's Reader will keep readers intrigued
Bernhard Schlink's The Reader is a powerful novel set in post-war Germany. It deals with the residual travesties of war-torn Germany, as well the intriguing relationship between a young boy and a mysterious older woman. Schlink transports readers to a time and place completely removed from present day Canada through his beautifully modest language and structure.
The book opens with an odd meeting between the older, aloof working woman named Hanna, who stumbles upon 15 year-old Michael getting sick in public. What ensues from this chance encounter is a strong and sensual relationship between Michael and his mysterious companion. At its core, The Reader effortlessly tells the story of a young man in love with a woman he knows nothing about.
The novel is essentially divided into two distinct parts, both narrated by Michael. Schlink's use of first person narrative throughout the novel lends a credibility necessary to this type of fictional personal account. The first half of the story deals only with a young Michael and allows the reader to watch his transition into manhood.
Michael's innocence stands alone as the strongest drawing point of the entire novel. The language Schlink uses to describe Michael's recollections of the first time he saw Hanna's naked body beautifully capture his naiveté. The scene in which Michael loses his virginity to Hanna is written so eloquently, it's as if the author is recalling his own life.
While the entire story is written from Michael's memory, it is the latter part of the novel which displays more maturity and less naiveté on the part of this character.
This second half finds Michael grown and in law school, still recovering from Hanna's mysterious and unexplained disappearance. Here, the romantic tone of the story changes to a much heavier one, as Michael attends a criminal trial seminar only to find Hanna is the woman accused of terrible war crimes.
Although some readers may not appreciate the poignant subject matter of the traumatic and true to life experiences of Nazi death camp sufferers, Schlink addresses the subject very carefully. While the novel deals with Hanna's involvement as a German SS guard at the Krakow concentration camp, it still focuses mostly on Michael's realization that he did not know the woman he had fallen in love with.
The Reader is a masterpiece which tackles an admittedly difficult topic. Schlink brilliantly writes a heavy subject matter in a lighter tone while maintaining respectability. His story of love and horror is wonderfully haunting and will undoubtedly break your heart.
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