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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I’m hoping that Bernhard Schlink’s thought-provoking novel The Reader doesn’t become a footnote to Kate Winslet’s Oscar success in the film adaptation. It is an important and enlightening read in so many ways and deserves a far wider readership than simply being “the book of the film” would ever garner it.

I’ve read it three times so far and twice this year: once in the original German (Der Vorleser) for Deutsche Erinnerungsliteratur (a German literature course dealing with the post-war period, which was run by Cardiff University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning); and then again this month, but for the first time in English, so that I could review it for Canongate’s wonderful Meet At The Gate website. Germany is the featured country on their Literature World Tour throughout May. (I previously reviewed Keri Hulme’s The Bone People when the tour visited New Zealand.)

Each time I read the book I discover something new within its pages or it raises fresh questions: whether it be about how we can go from loving someone to loathing them; why some people cross our paths and whether or not this is fate, together with what the lasting impact they have on our lives; or by forcing me to look at what people are capable of doing under extreme circumstances, be they good or bad.

If you’ve only ever seen the film adaptation, excellent though it is, or you have yet to discover this book, I’d urge you to read it. I think The Reader helped me to arrive at a better understanding of collective guilt in its scant number of pages than years spent living in Germany ever did. I’m not saying that it offered any answers. It didn’t. What the book does, however, is make you look inward, forcing you to ask the same questions of yourself that the central characters put to themselves and others. That internal debate is both enlightening and useful and, ultimately, the best way to begin to comprehend how and what the post-war generations of Germans felt.

You can read my review of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader on Canongate’s website here: MeetAtTheGate.com

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