Book Review of Der Vorleser

Der Vorleser
Der Vorleser
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Reference
Book Type: Paperback
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This book worked best for me as a sort of "parable", although I'm not certain to what extent the allegory--if any--was intended. Naive 15 year old Michael Berg is sick on the street and a woman cleans him up and guides him home. Later Michael's mother sends him by to thank the woman with a bouquet, and the pair begin a steamy, illicit (and illegal?) affair, part of their ritual being that Michael reads aloud to the woman, Hanna, until she mysteriously disappears. Years later Michael sits in on a trial for war-crimes and recognizes Hanna as one of the defendants. In terms of allegory, Michael seems to represent an idealistic German people besotted with--yet ignorant of--the alluring, dangerous fascist state and must come to terms with this love affair for the rest of his life. Also fascinating is the take on the postwar German generation who must grow up doubting/questioning the authority of their parents, the generation who allowed the holocaust to happen. For all these lofty themes, Michael's story is (mostly) related in simple, pared-down, stark prose that matches the subject matter well. Michael's occasional digressions into philosophy and law slow things down in the middle. Some of it comes off as authorial self-indulgence, perhaps, but also touches on some important and relevant aspects of guilt and laying blame. It can be difficult at times to identify with the perpetually moping Michael and cold Hanna (whose secret is fairly obvious early on). The ending left me rather cold and numb--the author's intent?--but I actually prefer the way the novel has recently transferred to the screen, especially the semblance of closure the film offers versus the open ending here.