Summary and book reviews of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader

by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader
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  • First Published:
    Mar 1999, 218 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 1999, 218 pages

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Book Summary

This mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover--then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

Chapter One

When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. It started in the fall and lasted until spring. As the old year darkened and turned colder, I got weaker and weaker. Things didn't start to improve until the new year. January was warm, and my mother moved my bed out onto the balcony. I saw sky, sun, clouds, and heard the voices of children playing in the courtyard. As dusk came one evening in February, there was the sound of a blackbird singing.

The first time I ventured outside, it was to go from Blumenstrasse, where we lived on the second floor of a massive turn-of-the-century building, to Bahnhofstrasse. That's where I'd thrown up on the way home from school one day the previous October. I'd been feeling weak for days, in a way that was completely new to me. Every step was an effort. When I was faced with stairs either at home or at school, my legs would hardly carry me. I had no appetite. Even if I sat down at the table hungry, I soon felt queasy. I woke up every morning with...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, a haunting story of love and guilt in which the legacy of Nazi crimes enters a young man's life in an unexpected and irrevocable way.

Michael Berg is fifteen and suffering from hepatitis. When he gets sick in the street one day on his way home from school, a woman brings him into her apartment and helps him to wash up. Later, he visits the woman to thank her and is drawn into a love affair that is as intoxicating as it is unusual--their meetings become a ritual of reading aloud (Michael reads to Hanna, at her request), taking showers, and making love. When Hanna disappears following a misunderstanding, Michael ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times

A formally beautiful, disturbing and finally morally devastating novel.

The New York Times

Arresting, philosophically elegant, morally complex. . . . Mr. Schlink tells his story with marvelous directness and simplicity.

The New York Times Book Review

Moving, suggestive and ultimately hopeful. . . . [The Reader] leaps national boundaries and speaks straight to the heart.

Elle - Francine Prose,

Haunting. . . . What Schlink does best, what makes this novel most memorable, are the small moments of highly charged eroticism.

Reader Reviews

Claudia

The hidden symbolism in The Reader
Marvelous book! Interesting that no review picked up on the incredible symbolism that the author wove into the story. If Hanna was first generation Germany, and Michael represented the second generation, post-war children, it fits very well. Hanna...   Read More

Dakota Shelton

This book is great
This book is great!! I am a sophomore on high school and my teacher recommenced it to me. And I am glad that she did, because it is the best book I have ever read. The boy Micheal is the greatest kid lots of manners and all. And Hanna is a nice Woman...   Read More

Arianna

The Reader
This is one of the best books I have ever read. My friend told me to read it. At first I was getting confused, but then I fell in love with it!!

Rae

Distance
I found "The Reader" to be fascinating.There were several themes in the storyline. Obviously, postwar Germany and the retributions of the Holocaust. Older woman having a sexual relationship with a young teenager. A teenage life affected by a ...   Read More

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