Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

A thought-provoking book on the whole meaning of Life.
A sensitive 15yr old gets initiated into sex by a secretive older woman. Although we later learn that she is illiterate, she makes a life-time impression on him as they connect mentally also but she always retains the 'upper-hand' in the relationship, keeping him constantly on the defensive. He is fairly devastated just when he's beginning to step-out on his own, she leaves without any clues when she's going. He internalises this, not knowing that in fact, she's running from the shame of possible discovery that she's illiterate. This idea seems rather dated in current Guyana, as people manage just fine, but I liked the line in the book--pg 188:  'Illiteracy is dependence.' It reinforces the Keats' line 'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold...'

The second part of the book has Michael as a student lawyer observing the trial of Hanna, where he realises that she's illiterate, but for various convoluted reasons, the main one being his philosopher-father's - that one should respect another's boundary- he elects to do nothing. I felt it was cowardly of him and eight years later, after the break-up of a rather cold marriage, he begins to send Hanna tape-recordings of various books. She uses these to teach herself to read and after writing him Thank-you notes, yearns for further contact but he is trapped in the shield he has put up to prevent further hurt after his encounter with her! It's a sad,vicious circle of missed opportunity- as in Life.
I liked the sub-storyline of the next generation coping with the awful truth of what roles their parents played during the war from a German angst-ridden point of view, having being exposed to an unrepentant viewpoint that the Jews deserved all they got and the media never missing an opportunity to pound the awful things done to the Jews while totally missing that Jews are doing the same unrepentantly to the Palestinians. It's a funny old world.


  1. The title was interesting too, He was The reader reading books to her , first when they were together then by tape. She also became the reader when she learned to read. Not forgetting the women that read to her before they died who were also readers. Last one also shows what was lost intellectually with the Holocaust.

  2. Interesting thought -- last sentence Amaraydha-hadn't thought of that-- good!

  3. Posted by Janice Imhoff ... The Reader ... i read this book many years ago and so the story is not so fresh in my mind but there were a couple of things that stayed ... i thought the book was taking a look at cellular memory through another lens ... hence the awe of the boy being attracted to the building ... did he know her in a past life?? ... or do paedophiles send out a kind of energy ... so i was griped by the author's style... i think the scene where he got an erection was very good at pacing the writing ... strenghts a bit about sexuality and energies ... again ... did she eveoke past memories in him ... or she awoke something in him ... then the author allowed us to know beforehand that she couldn't read ... i missed it first and wasn't until i shared it with a friend who brought my atention to the scene in the father's library when she was stroking the books - that was the hint - ... and the author seemed to be true to the way things are in this funny old world ... when adults mess with a child's sexuality they can ruin him/her for life so i wasn't suprised his marriage never worked ... i had another take on the father's advice ... this is why i think the reader is such a good book ... it puts out moral issues ... when to help ... when to disregard boundaries ... i have had this debate with a friend ... she realised her helper couldn't count ... so i said - teach her - she replied ... and then she'll leave my work ... and i asked her how she felt keeping anohter human being subordinated ... she asnwered - that's life it's called being wise ... so i taught the young lady to count and paid for her to go to lesson -- what's the update ... she left the doemstic work ... and the 3000 year deabte - did jesus christ actually say that the poor will alawys be among us and if he did, did he believe it ... so while the young woman tidies my locks i've read all your bloogs and i've made a substantial contribution to your blog ... seems to have less than vidya's (teasing you)
    By janice on The Reader June 12,2011 2.09pm