October 14, 2009

Love after war

Bernhard Schlink: The Reader (1995)

First of all I have to admit, I don’t like the stories about teenage boys with the first love and the first sexual experiences. By starting to read this story I’ was a bit afraid, it will more focus on this motive.

The novel starts with the first meeting between the 15 years old boy Michael Berg and the 36 years old Hannah Schmitz in a West German city, in 1958. The story is told by Michael (later, when he is over 40), and the first part of the book is really about the relationship between these two people. The distance between them is not only because the age difference, but they are from two different worlds too. Michael is a son of a philosopher and Hanna is a tram conductress, and she is from Transylvania. This part of the book is easy to read, but it changes very soon, during the second part of the book.

In the second part we met with our protagonists in a court room. Michael attends a law school, and with a group of other students he observes war crimes trials, and Hanna is among those middle-aged women, former SS-guards in Auschwitz, who are now the defendants of a trial (a holocaust survivor writes her memories, the charges against Hanna and the other women base on that book).

That makes the age different between the protagonists a bit more different. Hanna was already an adult during the WW2, she was an active member of that society, she has her own experiences about that regime. Michael is a member of an other generation. He knows the era of the Nazis was terrible, but his knowledge is indirect, his generation has not its own experiences about it. The situation for Michael’s generation is easy: everyone who lived in the regime before is guilty. The life is easy: someone is a sinner or a victim. But Michael discovers through his feeling for Hanna, it isn’t so simple. Of course, what Hanna did is a serious crime, and everyone, Michael too, keeps just Hanna to sentence for prison.

The book is mostly about Michael thoughts. Moral considerations, the question of crime and punishment, the difference between the generations, the difference between common and individual sins. The easy read at the beginning turns into maybe the biggest moral problems of our era.

It’s still important in the story the feeling between Michael and Hanna, it’s important till the end of the book, but all with these circumstances it’s is in an unusual and a very serious context.
Excellent novel.

I would like to recommend some similar books in the topic the ww2 form the point of view of a younger generation:
Morbus Kitahara by Christoph Ransmayr English version: The Dog King (see on amazon...)
Arnyas foutca [the Main Street of Shadows] by László Márton
And a novel about the problem of the common and the individual sins:
Penize od Hitlera [Hitler’s Money] by Radka Denemarkova

(This review was written for the challenges: Fall into Reading 09 and German Reading Challenge 2009)

3 megjegyzés:

Marie said...

I agree- it was an excellent novel. Thanks for the review & the recommendations. You always come up with great stuff. :-)

Diane said...

I really enjoyed this book when I read it. Thanks for the review.

Jenny said...

I thought this was an excellent book as well. It just pulled me in and then left me with so many thoughts when it was over. Thanks for the review.

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