Wisdom of the Ages

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink was first published in 1997, but in recent years has received new attention, first as a selection of Oprah’s book club, and then as the inspiration for a movie of the same name starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes.

The book tells the story of Hanna, a woman in her thirties, who has an affair with a fifteen-year-old boy in post-World War II Germany. Michael and Hanna’s affair is full of illicit passion and emotional upheaval as Michael struggles to understand the silences of his lover. Later, Michael learns of Hanna’s secrets: first, that she was involved with the SS as a concentration camp guard, and then later, a deeper secret which holds the key to the reason for her involvement.

Were it not for a plethora of non-fiction Holocaust literature that is more chilling and resonant than Hanna and Michael’s story, perhaps I would have been more impressed with what Schlink does here. Instead, I found both characters mostly unsympathetic and hard to have compassion for. The Reader is by no means a worthless book, but better books (both fiction and non-fiction) on the topic exist, such as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or Elie Wiesel’s The Night Trilogy, and are more worthy of this reader’s time.


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