Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Read The Reader

For some reason I have been so busy that my blogging has fallen off. Nevertheless I had such a wonderful weekend in New York celebrating my aunt's 80th birthday and what turned out to be something of a family reunion, I now have the opportunity to take a breather.

One of my favourite things to do when I am in New York City is to visit bookstores. I spent Monday afternoon in Barnes and Noble where I read the novel The Reader. The title of the book is what caught my eye because I so enjoy reading. I had no idea that it was the basis for an oscar nominated movie with big names like Ralph fiennes and Kate Winslet. I enjoy reading more than seeing movies but plan to see this one. Kate Winslet plays a woman who is portrayed in the book as a complex and proud character and her performance is supposed to be excellent.

The book was gripping and I couldn't believe that I had finished it with one cup of caramel frappucino and a cinnamon scone as sustenance. The notion of a teenager getting his first sexual experience from an older woman is nothing new but this woman Hannah Schmitz is 21 years older than her lover Michael Berg and there is more about her that makes the relationship disturbing. At 15 he learns about sex from this tram conductor who it turns out is illiterate but Michael who is ordered to read by Hannah each day after their lovemaking does not figure this out until years later. The books he reads are classics like the Odyssey.

The subsquent disappearance of Hannah, Michael's obsession with her, his discovery of her when he is a law student and she a defendant at a Nazi war crimes trial are told in a stark, simple, clear prose. This has the effect keeping the reader on the edge right up to the point of Michael's realization that he and Hannah have a secret - that of Hannah's illiteracy and he like Hannah does not disclose it although it plays a significant role in Hannah'sconviction. Michael who did not miss a day of the trial eventually starts sending Hannah tapings of readings of books but does not respond to her letters. Hannah you see, has learned to read by borrowing the same books and following the words she hears on tape.

I don't think I should reveal anymore except to say that the themes and questions raised in this book are relevant to all humankind. They concern love, forgiveness, guilt, responsibility and more. The questions posed by the Jewish woman at the end are salient. Oh yes, in case you are wondering, Michael does eventually see Hannah again.

This book by Bernhard Schlink, is a must have for book lovers and for those who want a quick, easy and stirring read.

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