Monday, January 25, 2016

5. The Reader

The rest of the north Eastern world was dealing with a blizzard this weekend. Me? I dealt with about 5 inches of snow. And yet, somehow, it kept me completely distracted from my responsibilities. Most importantly, this blog. So much of today has been spent catching up. I still have 170 pages of reading to do today if I'm really going to be where I should be...but believe me when I say I've been doing a pretty good job of getting back on track with some emotional things going on today.

But, it's time to get to the blogging portion of our evening. The latest addition to the Project 84 family is a book I've been meaning to read for years, ever since I saw the movie. So when I saw it among the pages of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I knew this would be one of the early ones to make the "to read" list. With that in mind, Book 5 of Project 84 is...

The Reader 
The Reader
By Bernhard Schlink

I'll start this one off on a personal note (I know, what else is new?) - I don't always do so well with Holocaust stories. Now, I know, no one loves stories about that time. It's a devastating, terrifying part of world history that fills us all with horror. But I do read about quite a few horrifying things, and there's something about the Holocaust in fiction that affects my emotions particularly hard. 
Perhaps part of it is hereditary. After all, I come from a family where a large portion of my ancestors on one side perished in concentration camps. I only exist because one man was able to escape, and it's hard to ignore that reality. And when I find a novel or movie that centers around that time, particularly one that's well done, it affects my dreams, my mood, my thoughts, and the rest of my life for longer than it should.
This story is no exception.
For those who don't know it, the story is of a 15-year-old German boy named Michael, who, in 1958, begins an affair with an older German woman named Hanna Schmitz. The affair ends abruptly, with Hanna leaving town unannounced, and the story picks up 6 years later, with Michael as a young law student at University. As a student, Michael observes a war crimes trial of female guards at Auschwitz.
One of those guards is Hanna.
The Reader is a beautiful movie (which is where I first encountered this story), and a wonderfully written novel. It's interesting, because the novel I read was translated from the German original. Oftentimes that can make the wording stilted and rudimentary, but this story was anything but. It was compelling, the characters well rounded and interesting, and I couldn't put it down.
The book is a clear allegory, with Hanna representing the atrocities of the Holocaust, and Michael representing the young generation of Germans trying to come to terms with their dark history. He says as much...though in a way that doesn't take away from the character:
“I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hannah, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over agin. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks – understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both.” – page 157
But there is so much more to this book than an allegorical tale of Holocaust Germany. It's about love, and forgiveness, and understanding. And there is so much more to it than I'm even getting into here...I haven't even bothered to explain the title, which creates a whole other complicated layer to the story and playing on a theme of personal responsibility.

But I figure I would give too much away if I went much further. Suffice it to say, I would recommend this book to just about anyone. It's a quicker read, coming in at just over 200 pages, but it's far from "easy". The complicated emotion and the fascinating characters make this a classic in my eyes, and I would recommend it to anyone that wants a deeper read among the "blizzard books" this Winter.

The Reader was a win. And I'm lucking out that there are a few other good ones that I'm just starting to get into now, so stay tuned!

Expect a "Monday" Update later tonight, to get a better idea of what to expect this week! You can also always keep track on my Goodreads page of where I am in my reading, as I update that almost daily.

Happy reading this week, everyone!!

Next Review: Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Estimated Posting Date: Thursday, January 28th)

**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of The Reader, published by Vintage Books in 1997**

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