The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The ReaderThe Reader. Finished 4-25-15, rating 5/5, fiction, pub. 1995

Unabridged audio read by Campbell Scott. 4 hours, 30 minutes

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.
When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover–then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

from Goodreads

I watched the movie made from this book in 2009 when it came out because I love Kate Winslet and I ended up being very moved by it.  And it was with those images in my mind that I listened to the book expertly narrated by Campbell Scott. He became the young and then the adult Michael for me.  Between the movie and Campbell’s narration there was a warmth and richness to this story that I don’t know if I would have found in reading the book alone.  At just over 200 pages it tackled a lot and much of it had to be personally considered by the reader.  What I’m saying is that I can vouch for the audio, but I don’t know it I would have loved it as much if I had read the book alone.

The first part is the love? story between the 15 year old Michael and the 30 something old Hanna.  I didn’t ever truly figure out the why of it on her end, but it’s an easier sell for a 15-year-old boy to be captivated by a woman who teaches him all about sex .  I found it realistic especially since as he started to spend more time with his peers he began to question Hanna’s place among them.

Flash forward a few years and Michael is at university studying law and his class is studying a trial of women accused of Nazi crimes and he sees Hanna for the first time since he was 15.  She was a guard for one of the concentration camps and now must face her day in court.  Michael is riveted and doesn’t miss a day.

I loved this for how much it manages to pack into such a short book.  There was the strange physical relationship between the two, but then it moved into things more thought-provoking, horrifying and sad.  It’s a great book for discussion and those who are interested in post-war Germany.  Not a happy book, but one that left me satisfied and enriched.

I will probably have to watch the movie again now because from what I remember the two almost the same.