Review: ‘The Reader’


The Reader

by Bernhard Schlink

  • Date finished: May 19
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1995
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Spring 2013
  • Grade: B+
  • Thoughts upon reading:

I gave this book a B+ because there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, The Reader has a lot of good things going for it. It’s an unlikely story of a German teenager who becomes enamored – and later enters a sexual relationship – with a mysterious woman twice his age. Years after this furtive, highly-emotional relationship ends, that teenager – who’s now a young man studying law – finds himself in a courtroom where his former lover Hannah is on trial. She’s on trial for letting a church full of Jewish women burn to death during World War II during her tenure as an SS guard at Auschwitz.

I had an inkling of what this book was about beforehand because of the 2008 film starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes (one of those guys who just looks like the “any European”). It’s a fascinating, captivating story that forces you to question a whole bunch of morals. Plus, I think anything dealing with the Holocaust is of perennial interest to most readers, particularly a story that takes up the human side of the Nazis and the generational German guilt that followed World War II.

For that reason, I can see why this novel plays so well with German audiences. This really is a story of modern Germany. And if you’re into the Holocaust, The Reader is a can’t-miss addition to the genre. The book is well-written and yet easy to read, a combo that helped me finish the book in barely a week.

And yet, I’m still giving it a B+ because in spite of its lack of flaws, the subject matter didn’t grab me like I would want. Let’s just say Holocaust books aren’t my thing. I’m not saying they’re not compelling, because they are. And like any other decent person, I am deeply saddened by the Holocaust – a feeling compounded by my visit to the concentration camp at Dachau during my honeymoon (I know, we’re romantic). And yet, even days after I finished The Reader, I admit that this is a book that probably won’t stick with me. Yes, I’ll recommend it. But will I consider re-reading it? Naw.


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