As a heads up, there are some large spoilers down below. Proceed with caution. This originally was posted on February 5, 2009 to my Facebook notes. I read the book from cover to cover and afterward felt as if I was guilty by association. I did not like the book. I went in not knowing what it was about and once I realized that it was a woman seducing a teenager it made me feel wrong for reading it. I was mad that Oprah suggested it. I know it was critically acclaimed but it still left me unsettled.
Amazon: Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 1999: Originally published in Switzerland, and gracefully translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, reading, and shame in postwar Germany. Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. He never learns very much about her, and when she disappears one day, he expects never to see her again. But, to his horror, he does. Hanna is a defendant in a trial related to Germany’s Nazi past, and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. As Michael follows the trial, he struggles with an overwhelming question: What should his generation do with its knowledge of the Holocaust? “We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable…. Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt? To what purpose?”
I have read various snippets on this piece. And for the most part they all neglect the one simple fact – this is a story about a 36 year old woman who seduces (aka molests) a 15 year old boy. Why is this neglected in critiques? I sit here, my jaw agape with the realization of this being an Oprah’s choice, that this has been translated into a film staring Kate Winslet. Am I missing something? Did it suddenly become ok for a woman, 21 one years the elder, to have sex with a 15 year old kid (as she affectionately calls him throughout the novel). During their “love” affair she even so much as strikes him in the face with a leather belt, causing his mouth to bleed. Throughout his life he is haunted by her imagery. She has affected his life.
As a turn of events, this woman turns out to be a guard for the SS at concentration camps and that during a death march, prisoners at her mercy die in a fire.
Are we to pity this creature because she is illiterate? Is it ok for her to molest, to be executioner, to be a predator… all because of her illiteracy?
The books structure and stripped down method made it an easy read. Yet for me it was one of the most brutal reads which my OCD refused to let me stop.
I will not ask you to read this one. I feel it goes against my better judgment.
Categories: Theater - Literature - Language