When he is 15 years old, Michael Berg meets Hanna Schmitz. He had gotten very ill and she rescued him, getting him home. When he finally recuperates but is still weak months later, he finds her to tell her thank you. Although she is twice his age, Hanna and Michael connect and have an affair. At first it is physical. Then Michael starts reading to Hanna from his school books and reading books. She loves to listen to him.
Their affair continues for a few years. They even travel on a vacation together. As Michael gets older, he starts hiding his life from her. His family and friends never know of the affair. Now he gets more involved with the others in his life closer to his age and sees her less. Finally, he asks too much of Hanna. She disappears from his life and the city. He doesn't forget her, though.
Michael decides to go to law school. While there, a notorious trial begins. Women from a Nazi war camp are now on trial. They are accused of many crimes both from their time as guards of the camp and when they allowed a church to burn down with many of the camp's prisoners trapped inside. Students from Michael's class go to watch the trial as part of their classwork. Michael is startled to see Hanna sitting with the accused women. He learns more about this woman than he had ever guessed. He also realizes her biggest secret, the one she even hides during the trial. She knows her sentence may be harsher but she keeps it hidden.
Bernhard Schlink's The Reader has been sitting on Mt. Bookpile for almost ten years. I had seen the movie a couple months ago and finally pulled the book off the shelf.
I found The Reader to be a thought provoking poignant tale. Everyone has secrets. of course. We all have some secrets so big that we don't want anyone to discover. Hanna is ashamed of her secret. She is very good at hiding it. Even so, because of it, her life is harder. If she confessed, she could save herself some grief. Her secret is too important to her, though.
This isn't just Hanna's story, though. It is written in Michael's first person voice. It is his coming of age story, then his coming to maturity. He marries, has a child, and continues on with his life. After Hanna is in jail for her war crimes, he gives her an ongoing present. He knows how much she loved his reading to her. He takes it up again, reading to her on tape and mailing the tapes to her in prison. When Hanna is finally released from prison many years later, he is the person who arranges for her to have a place to live when she gets out.
Michael's relationship with Hanna affects the rest of his life. He is never sure of his feelings for her. He was able to behave callously to her when he was a young man and she left his life. Yet her shadow is always in the background. Then, with her trial, Michael has to face his inner self. He has to decide whether he will help her or let her accept the harsh sentence she will receive if she doesn't reveal her secret.
Black - white - gray. The Reader is full of all the shades of right and wrong, love and hate, good and bad. Life is rarely black and white. Schlink reminds the reader of the shades of gray that fill our lives.
As a side note, it's rare for me to have a movie come up to equal a book. A book conveys so much that a movie can't. The mediums are different so rarely tell the same story on screen versus on the page. But The Reader manages it. The movie is filmed well and portrays those shades that affect us all.
Notice: Strong sexual content
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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