Bernhard Schlink The Reader

The ReaderThe Reader by Bernhard Schlink

This is my review on Goodreads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bernhard Schlink The Reader

15-year-old Michael Berg meets, by a chance, an older woman, Hanna, and embarks on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. Their relationship is tempestuous, but it has many moments of happiness, particularly when Michael reads to Hanna after their love-making. Among the stories he reads is Chekov’s The Lady with the Little Dog which is a reflection of their relationship. He is distraught when Hanna disappears, but grows up, becomes a law student, and finds a girl friend, who he later marries. Observing a trial, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna, and that the woman he had loved is charged with a dreadful war crime. Her behaviour during the trial seems irrational, but suddenly, and terribly, he realises that Hanna is not only obliged to answer for the crime she is accused of, but is also desperately concealing what is to her an even more shameful secret. The disclosure of this secret would exonerate her, but she cannot use this means of escape. Michael’s past and Germany’s past are bound together, and the issues of guilt and responsibility are sensitively explored. The translation, by Carol Brown Janeway, is perfect: it is difficult to believe that the book was not written in English.

It should be pointed out to readers in the British Isles and in North America that the age of consent to (heterosexual) sexual activity in many European countries, including Germany, is 14 or 15, and while the relationship between Michael and Hanna may be unusual, it is not illegal. The book makes clear that Michael is a mature, thinking person, and that is why when he discovers the terrible truth, he is so upset.

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