The Reader – Bernhard Schlink

Here is another example of a story I was turned onto because they made the book into a movie.  It is also one of those frighteningly more common examples of when I have watched the movie before reading the book  I have only read the book and seen the movie one time each, hardly enough to draw a point by point comparison, especially after so much time has passed, but I don’t recall a lot of difference – at least not like there was in Slumdog Millionaire.


Some observations that I had when reading this book:


Holocaust story?  Not really  It doesn’t talk about someone having to work in the camps or having to join the Nazis – other than Hanna’s recollection – but


Odyssey – constantly in motion and unable to settle – such is the case with both Hanna and Michael.  We know little of Hanna’s life before she worked for the Nazis – but was she as unsettled then as she is now?  And if not, then that would lead us to believe that she was as disturbed by her actions.  Michael is disturbed as well, by his involvement with someone who could do such things – though all she did was guard the prisoners.


Michael was fifteen when he started his affair with Hanna.  At such an age I feel that we are not quite ready for that type of intimacy.  Given the dynamic of power in their relationship I would have to wonder how it would have affected Michael regardless of what he later came to learn.  This is something dealt with near the end of Nabokov’s Lolita when he goes to visit her and finds that she’s in yet another dysfunctional relationship.  Both of these books demonstrate how a child can never really go back to having a normal lie after they’ve been in a pedophilic relationship.  When we add to that the fact that Hanna abandoned Michael (on which Freud would have more than a few things to say I’m sure) and then his discovery of her involvement in the war I think that it is hardly surprising that he goes on to have unstable relationships with women for the rest of his life.


We only learn about half to three quarters of the way through the book that Hanna does not know how to read as so she has been having disadvantaged children (I guess weak would be the better word) read to her, and this was the case with Michael as well.  During the war she would have young children come to her room and read her stories, resulting in much talk.  She continued this trend with Michael as well.  Until MIchael figured it out no one knew that she couldn’t read and Hanna took great pains to keep it that way  Why?  Could it just be her pride?  This is a question we may never fully know the answer to, but it does bring into question her relationship with Michael.


Little children are wholly reliant on their parents to take care of them  As they grow they begin to assert their independence by leaving home alone.  One of the basic necessities in our current era is the ability to read.  Everywhere you look there are signs or directions, rules that need to be followed.  While people can manage without reading their lives are much harder  They, essentially, are stunted in their growth, never able to fully function.  Hanna’s illiteracy boxed her into a situation where she had little choice but to turn to the Nazis for advancement in her career.  After the war she was unable to accept advancement in her current employer.  She could not escape to the worlds on the pages of books, and was reliant on others for that.  I think that she resented the fact that she could not read, because it made her so dependent and she didn’t want to be embarrassed by it, that is why she accepted all the blame for the death of the Jewish women.


I will have to read this novel again to get more insights, but I love it.  I think that this is going on my short list of favorites.  And my review has turned into more of a commentary.  Well, you really need to read the book then.


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