It has been a long time since I have written a review here. That is not to say I haven’t reviewed anything. I have read and given my opinion on many books, articles etc. but just not in public.
My overall impression is that The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is a ‘quiet’ book. No melodrama, not many dialogues, no surprise that blindsides you. However, the characters are not bland; neither is the story.
The book is rich in emotion in that lack of emotions or of overt expressions of it makes it startlingly interesting. There are many characters—as many as the style (the main protagonist narrating the story) allows.
Not having many dialogues makes the reading akin to watching scenes passing by the window of a moving train or seeing many still frames one after the other, at great speed.
When there are dialogues, they are immensely thought-provoking. The conversation between the truck driver with whom Michael Berg hitchhikes to visit the remains of a concentration camp and the one between him and his father are examples. I wonder if the discussions were based on the author’s opinions or if these were ideas he threw us to chew on.
Before I read the book, I had read a few reviews on it, as is usual for me.
Many have said that this book is about the persecution of Jews, and hence have found it wanting in comparison with many other brilliant books on the subject. Others, including the author, have said that it shows the struggle of ‘the generation that came after’ in coming to terms with their ancestors’ Nazi past.
Then there are those who focus on the relationship between a fifteen-year-old boy and a woman twice his age. All those are good angles to view the book from, I suppose.
However, to me, this book is about shame and how it affects people. If not for the paralysing shame that Hanna Schmitz experiences, this story wouldn’t exist. At least, not in this form! Does that excuse her actions? Certainly not. But, as we know, life can be bizarre; people can be driven by strange phobias and manias.
Would I re-read this book? Probably not. But neither would I re-read Gone With the Wind, Roots, Good Earth, How Green was My Valley or many such other books I have enjoyed. I like to think of them as once-in-a-lifetime experiences—great, but not to be repeated.
Was this book as good as any of those? Again, probably not. But this is based on the English translation of the original; so I really am not qualified to judge. The translation is by Carol Brown Janeway.
Would I watch the film adaptation? I think I will pass.