Sometimes, not very often but sometimes, I can finish reading a book and still be unsure whether I liked it at all. I’d imagine the fact that I finished it at all means I liked it at least a little, since there are other books which I can simply walk away from and say, “No thank you.” Maybe the truth is simply that I did not love it. I certainly did not love The Reader by Bernhard Schlink but I am glad to have read it, I did find myself anxious to read ‘what happens next’ even if I never really fell in love with any of the characters or their story.
The Reader tells a few stories. It tells the story of a grown woman who has an affair with a fifteen year old boy, and the consequences of that affair for the boy as he grows up in his love life and beyond. It tells the story of a generation of young Germans trying to understand the Nazi past that most of their parents had had involvement in – how do you deal with knowing what your loved ones have done or lived through? How do you deal with what fellow humans like yourself are capable of? But this story also tells, and this was the most enjoyable part of the story for me, is the story of a woman who cannot read or write, and her shame in this and her inability to admit it to anyone, has a long laundry list of consequences. It effects every area of her life, always for the worst, and even when admitting to her illiteracy could potentially save her, the shame of being found out is just too great – the things she suffers for her secret are astounding. Never mind the small details of a life without written word, all the simple things which become difficult that nobody could understand or expect without knowing.
The first half of this story, the story of Hanna and Michael’s affair, I could not relate to, did not enjoy and mostly just suffered through. If I had not known what was coming next, I can assure you I would have walked away from this story very early on. But between the Nazi Germany connection and the story of Hanna’s illiteracy, I kept reading, knowing that those stories could be wonderful. And while I’m still not sure if they were wonderful, they were definitely worth reading. I tend to read much lighter stories, rarely venturing back into the world of ‘serious literature’ so in part, this may be simply a complaint with having forced myself to read a ‘grown up book.’ It was also translated from German, and it’s possible that in the original language, if I could read German, that it might have been a better story – translations never show the exact beauty of the written word as it’s originally intended – you are often just left with the basic bones of the story, which while interesting, I doubt it is the same at all. And of course the last possibility, is that I simply did not love it.
I would still encourage anyone interested in The Reader to try it. It was not a difficult read, despite those draw backs previously mentioned. I read it no more or less quickly than another book of it’s size and even for those who might feel squeamish about the first part of the story, Hanna and Michael’s story, I can say it could have been worse. Anyone who has had a physical relationship should be able to handle reading this, I’d think. But to those readers who are younger and have not experienced this, I’d advise they wait on reading this one as it is fairly detailed (without being down right smutty). Basically, I say this book is worth a shot and certainly capable of being an enjoyable read. I wouldn’t be surprised if many, many people love it in a way that I simply did not.
About the Momma:
Jen is a Stay at Home Mom and Loving Wife. She spends her time online reading RSS feeds and posting in her blog. If you haven’t heard from her in awhile, she’s likely lost in a good book, sleeping or watching Grey’s Anatomy.