I read several “popcorn” books this month and wanted to read something with a bit more substance; the Reader had been on my ‘to-read’ list since I purchased it at a book fair in August.
Michael falls ill on his way home from school and is rescued by Frau Schmitz, after his recovery he goes to thank her and they begin a sexual relationship. During their affair 15-year-old Michael reads his school books to thirty-something Hanna, it’s part of their ritual: bath, sex, reading. They spend almost every afternoon together for a summer until one day Hanna leaves town without letting Michael know. Michael studies hard and ends up in law school where one of his classes takes him to a trial of female SS officers who let concentration camp prisoners die in a fire. One of the defendants is Hanna.
The second part of the book focuses on the trial, Michael begins to notice that Hanna is unable to properly defend herself because she is hiding her embarrassing secret: she is illiterate. She ends up confessing to writing a report (to avoid a handwriting sample) that leads her to a life sentence in prison. Once Hanna is in prison Michael records himself reading books and sends them to Hanna; he doesn’t contact her any other way even after she teaches herself to write and begins to send him letters.
I found myself really liking the Reader and I wish I had read it sooner, the first section is basically soft-core erotic fiction but the second and third part focuses on the fall out of Michael & Hanna’s affair as well as the aftermath of WW2 in Germany. The book is more about the relationship between Michael & Hanna and the fall out of their affair once all the cards are on the table. You could play mad libs with the time period and the crime without sacrificing the emotional journey of Michael.
“What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy. But I think it is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever.”