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Kell

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

How would you rate this book? (Dont forget to say why in the thread!)  

2 members have voted

  1. 1. How would you rate this book? (Dont forget to say why in the thread!)

    • 5/5 - Top-notch reading!
    • 4/5 - Excellent
    • 3/5 - Pretty good
    • 2/5 - OK, but nothing to write home about
    • 1/5 - Dull as ditchwater
    • 0/5 - Utter dross!
      0


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THIS THREAD WILL OPEN ON



1ST OCTOBER

 

IT IS ASSUMED YOU HAVE READ THIS BOOK BEFORE READING THIS THREAD, THEREFORE SPOILER TAGS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN USED IN ORDER TO FASCILITATE EASIER AND MORE OPEN DISCUSSION

 

This book is available cheaply from Green Metropolis or through Amazon (please use the link at the top right of this web page)

 

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink:

Synopsis:

For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does - Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

 

 

SOME BASIC QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

1. Who was your favourite character and why?

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

Questions for The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (from the back of the novel):

1. Who do you think “the reader” of the title is, or can it be applied to more than one character?

2. At what point was it apparent to you that Hanna was illiterate? What is the importance of literacy in the book?

3. How would you describe the tone and style of Bernhard Schlink’s writing in part one of the book? How does it differ from the second and third parts? What effect does the difference achieve?

4. The relationship between Hanna and Michael begins with an act of kindness on her part but we later learn of her involvement in the concentration camps. Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out she was a guard?

5. Michael suggests reasons why Hanna became a guard and for her selection of girls to read to her. How convincing are his arguments? How can we explain why ordinary people commit atrocities without resorting to calling the monsters?

6. Michael refers to the many images that have been produced of the camps, particularly in films. Is there a danger that the continued exposure of Holocaust images lessens their impact until they become frozen into clich

Edited by Kell

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This was a tricky one to designate to a poll place. The book is powerful and thought provoking, and controversial in many ways, but I didn't enjoy it.

 

I would still recommend it be read though! It is one of those texts that alters not so much your viewpoint as your perspective, giving this vast and overwhelming subject matter a close to and tangible human face.

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I found this novel surprisingly enjoyable and easy to read - considering the subject matter, I was expecting it to be more hard-going, but the style really drew me in.

 

My copy of The Reader has questions in the back, so every few days, I'll post one and see what people made of it...

 

The first one is:

Who do you think

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The cleverness of the title is that it is not made clear who 'The Reader' should be.

 

The term once examined, has many layers and interpretations to it. Clearly Michael is reading to her both in his youth, and later whilst Hanna is in prison so he would be an immediate contender. His later refusal to post written letters to her is a refusal to acknowledge her position as a reader. Hanna is a reader through her initial listening, but is a reader 'proper' later through her own efforts

 

Yet the sickly weak women Hanna made read to her in the camp were also readers.

 

Extending the term 'reader' further, you could additionally look at Hanna's trial as a form of reading; through the written evidence, where a written report made at the time of the church fire is used to lay the entire blame on Hanna, and through the book written by the young woman who survived the fire alongside her mother.

 

The reading in this first example leads to assumptions and accusations against mainly Hanna, that she accepts rather than expose her illiteracy.

 

In the second instance, the written accounts by the survivor invoke sympathy and calls for justice from the court listeners and therefore those in the courtroom can be supposed to be yet another kind of reader in this story.

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The title 'The Reader' is an unfortunate title as it has several meanings in English. The original German title is far less amibigous, meaning someone who reads something out to someone else. Bearing that in mind and intially restricting ourselves to the German meaning , then Micheal, the Judge, the prison governess and possibly the seminar professor are readers. Opening the meaning out draws in more - Hannah in the sense reading other people and eventually being able to read and the daughter in her reading of Micheal.

 

Turning to the more generic questions:

 

i didnt have a favourite character, many were 'cardboard cutouts'. Only Micheal and Hannah received a modicum of development which was still fuzzy, especially in the case of Hannah.

 

The early chapter where Micheal fantasises aabout the building in which Hannah lived is good. I also found the conversation with his father interesting, as it highlights the philosophical underpinning of the novel.

 

This was the first work by Schlink I have read. I have tried reading some his other works and I've come to conclusion that I'm unlikely to read anything else by him as I find his style evasive and approach deliberately vague.

 

I didnt struggle with any of the concepts. My main complaint is the amount of contradiction unspoken implications and evasivness present in the novel.

 

As to whether I found it enjoyable is difficult to answer. It is interesting, but at the same disconcerting in my view.

Edited by sirinrob

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The cleverness of the title is that it is not made clear who 'The Reader' should be.

 

The term once examined, has many layers and interpretations to it. Clearly Michael is reading to her both in his youth, and later whilst Hanna is in prison so he would be an immediate contender. His later refusal to post written letters to her is a refusal to acknowledge her position as a reader. Hanna is a reader through her initial listening, but is a reader 'proper' later through her own efforts

 

Yet the sickly weak women Hanna made read to her in the camp were also readers.

 

Extending the term 'reader' further, you could additionally look at Hanna's trial as a form of reading; through the written evidence, where a written report made at the time of the church fire is used to lay the entire blame on Hanna, and through the book written by the young woman who survived the fire alongside her mother.

 

The reading in this first example leads to assumptions and accusations against mainly Hanna, that she accepts rather than expose her illiteracy.

 

In the second instance, the written accounts by the survivor invoke sympathy and calls for justice from the court listeners and therefore those in the courtroom can be supposed to be yet another kind of reader in this story.

The point you make about sympathy for the daughter is interesting. If you examine how Schlink treats her overall ther is feeling that the author is attempting the opposite. This is particularly noticeable in the scene when Micheal visits her. Schlink's intention is more to invoke sympathy for Hannah as a victim of circumstances beyond her control. The implications of that are troublesome in my view.

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Bearing that in mind and intially restricting ourselves to the German meaning , then Micheal, the Judge, the prison governess and possibly the seminar professor are readers. Opening the meaning out draws in more - Hannah in the sense reading other people and eventually being able to read and the daughter in her reading of Micheal. .
In my response I hadn't considered the judge, seminar professor, nor the absolute stand out as a reader, the prison governess.

 

I'm unlikely to read anything else by him as I find his style evasive and approach deliberately vague. .
I would not seek out another Schlink, unless thoroughly recommended one by a trusted source, and for the same reasons as you.
The point you make about sympathy for the daughter is interesting. If you examine how Schlink treats her overall ther is feeling that the author is attempting the opposite. This is particularly noticeable in the scene when Micheal visits her. Schlink's intention is more to invoke sympathy for Hannah as a victim of circumstances beyond her control. The implications of that are troublesome in my view.

I hadn't realised to what extent I had overlayed Schlink's presentation of the daughter with my already established feelings regarding Holocaust survivors. I agree that our sympathies are meant to lean toward Hanna during the passages in which the daughter appears, although I am not troubled by that.

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I'm not surprised you had overlayed your image of the holocaust on the daughter. The structure of the novel is elastic enough for that to happen.

 

What I find troublesome about how Schlink deals with the daughter is how he uses her to validate Hannah's brutatilty towards Micheal, as opossed to the events of the Holocaust. In my view this is symptomatic of Schlink's determination to obfuscate the events of the Holocaust.

Edited by sirinrob

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I enjoyed reading the book, but in my opinion, the story could have been so much more. There were lots of times when I thought this chapter/narrative/particular incident could have been expanded further.

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OK, time for my own answer to the first question (I have typed all my answers up beforehand in Word so I can paste them across after a few have been posted by others - I'm so sneaky!).

 

1. Who do you think

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Yes and No. Both Hannah and Micheal sek escapism from life. However as I have pointed out the German title refers to someone who reads something to someone else so in that regard I disagree.

 

Taking up your point re Micheal's confinement due to illness, I believe that extends to his relationship with his family - Father is distant, the rest lecture him in how to think and behave. He is a victim BEFORE he meets Hannah

Edited by Michelle
consecutive posts merged

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Yes, Michael's family seem very odd to me. Coming from a very close family, I find it hard to understand how a father can be so cold and distant as to ask his children to make appointments to see him! Tey also seem quite overprotective of him - Michael himself decides it's time for him to return to school and they are unsure he's ready for it - his relationship with Hanna would seem to me to be his attempt at escape and perhaps, in chosing a lover who is old enough to be his mother, he is looking for a closer relationship with a mother figure? The old Oedipus complex?

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Yes, there are plenty of pointers towards classical underpinnings to the novel and the Oedippus story isnt far away. From the various clues dotted around like Hannah being old enough to be his mother but that not bothering him, his reading to her, like a parent to a child, going away together and pretending to be mother and son; all point to the Oeddippus story. The dream about the building is interesting too - it eventually looks blind - I believe thats a metaphor for amongst other things Micheal's blind love of Hannah and Oeddippus's blindess. The entire Oedippus story pervades the novel - to the extent that Hannah represents Jocasta, and like Jocasta hangs herself offstage.

Edited by sirinrob

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I enjoyed reading the book, but in my opinion, the story could have been so much more. There were lots of times when I thought this chapter/narrative/particular incident could have been expanded further.

Yes, but then Schlink would have had to be more specific and that goes against his style. One thing that would have made the whole novel more complete would have been to address directly the question 'What did you do?' in addition to 'What would would you have done?' The latter question is directly asked, the former glossed over as its painful and would have required more exposure to what actually happened in the past, something that Schlink is at great pains to avoid.

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Time for another question:

 

At what point was it apparent to you that Hanna was illiterate? What is the importance of literacy in the book?

 

I actually saw the film before reading the book, but whilst watching I wasn

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I became aware of Hannah's 'impaired literacy' when she first got Micheal to read to her - it is rather obvious, especially in the German text. Something that never seems to get commented on is Micheal's 'impaired literacy'. There are three instances I've noted. The first one is when he reads from his father's book on Kant and doesn't understand it all, secondly at the trial he struggles to read the english version of the daughter's book and thirdly when he visits the daughter they quickly switch from English to German.

 

In my view the whole issue of Literacy in the novel is confused. The likelihood of Hannah of having impaired literacy is high as she was brought up in Roumania which during her formative years had a policy of educating Roumanians at the expense of ethnic Germans ( which she is). In addition boys got a better education than girls. There is enough evidence that she has a very basic grasp of German, but I concede she cant write and has very limited reading ability. Schlink appears to have chosen impaired literacy as a convenient handle for a metaphor for the lack of understanding of the post war generations with regard to the Nazi past.

 

Something Schlink seems to play on as well is the perceived notion that litearcy is black and white concept. This is a notion I disagree with. Literacy is a spectrum, some people can read and write at a basic level others have a much higher level of ability. It ties in with comprehension. A personal example - 2 years ago I didnt have a clue about surveying houses and all the associated knowledge. Now i do have a good basic understanding of the subject. So in my case I had an impaired literacy in house surveying which after traing has become more literate.

Edited by sirinrob

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I was wondering, apart from the slight title difference, is there any marked difference in the original German novel to the English translation? Has anyone read both versions?

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I have read both and there are differences. Most are cosmetic, but I have found an instance on page 18 where the authorial intention has impaired by omission. On that page in the english version there is the sentence 'Often in my life I have done things that I had decided not to do.' In the German version the sentence starts with that but then continues with 'and not done things I had decided to do'. So in this instance it looks like the translator has edited the text during translation.

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sirinrob, I am really enjoying reading your posts, they are so vivid. You are making me look through a different lens at aspects I thought I had diligently considered.

 

I was aware before reading the book that Hannah had 'impaired literacy', so I wasn't shocked by this revelation.

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i'm aware of the various issues posed, and I'm glad that I'm assisting in a meaningful discussion. Lets hope others join in....

 

Further to the literacy issue, there is acurious exchange between Micheal and Hanna (page 40)

 

'Are you also learning German?'

'How do you mean?'

'Do you only learn foreign languages, or is there still stuff you have to learn in your own?' (emphasis mine)

 

This is a direct translation of the German, so its not an artifact of translation. The unpsoken implication is that German is not Hannah's mother tongue, even though we are told she came from a ethnic German community in Roumania. :blush: This might be an indicator pointing to Micheal's unreliability as a narrator. Thoughts?

 

At the risk of getting my wrist slapped ( spiky limp lettuce leaves preferred) I'll pose a question - what is your estimation of Hannah's and Micheals emotional literacy?

Edited by Maureen
merged

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The unpsoken implication is that German is not Hannah's mother tongue, even though we are told she came from a ethnic German community in Roumania. :lol: This might be an indicator pointing to Micheal's unreliability as a narrator. Thoughts?

I thought this was more about Hanna not believing herself to be an 'owner' of their shared first language, because she could only speak it rather than read it.

 

The reading of the written word might offer more than the speaking of words, but being unable to read Hanna cannot know this. The question is put to Michael because as a word reader as well as speaker he should know whether there is as she asks, 'still stuff you have to learn in your own?'.

 

 

I want to give your second question a little more thought before responding sirinrob.

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I thought this was more about Hanna not believing herself to be an 'owner' of their shared first language, because she could only speak it rather than read it.

 

The reading of the written word might offer more than the speaking of words, but being unable to read Hanna cannot know this. The question is put to Michael because as a word reader as well as speaker he should know whether there is as she asks, 'still stuff you have to learn in your own?'.

 

 

I want to give your second question a little more thought before responding sirinrob.

Good point - and she seems to be asking for his help at this stage but he doesn't realise it. That said , im looking at the history of her birth place and ther e is the possibility that her mother tongue is Hungarian as Hermannstadt was not part of Roumania till 1918. Before that it was part of Hungary - Transylvannia no less. Also bear in mind her spoken German is restricted to the informal register. She struggles in the trial to make her self understood in formal German.

 

Also Schlink has indicated we should critque Micheal, but Schlink makes this difficult. I could well be clutching at straws with this instance, but still get the feeling Micheal is unreliable - recall how he cant recall Hannah's face , but has to reconstruct it , a bit like an Identikit?

 

The implication of your point - she doenst feel ownership of the language might be related to her withdrawal from the everyday world. This is shown in her apparant withdrawal into herself when dressing. I'll return to that later (yep im a blue meanie :lol:)

Edited by Maureen
merged

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I read this book back in May and gave it 9/10. However, for some reason I didn't write down my thoughts - just a synopsis of the story - and I find now that the thread is open but nearly 5 months have passed since I read it, I can remember little about it or my thoughts on it.

 

The fact that I've forgotten so quickly speaks volumes, I think, and I'd probably revise my score down to about 3/5.

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I can understand that. Having read the German original, the involved web of ideas is easier to see. The translation smoothes out many of the ideas, into snappy colloquillisnms that are easily forgotten.

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Lots of very interesting stuff coming from this! (yay! :) ) I shall have to have a think about the two questions you posed, Sirinrob... I can see my thinking cap is going to have to be firmly wedged on my head this month! :lol:

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