The Reader

22 04 2009

I must say this book caught my attention only after Kate Winslet won Golden Globe for it. Reading it was an experience. I was bowled over by the narration. The characters deeply intrigued me. 

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read and one which leaves an everlasting impression on me.

The story basically revolves around two principal characters: the narrator – Michael Berg and Hanna Schmitz. It deals with the difficulties which subsequent generations have in comprehending the Holocaust.  The book begins with the narrator, then a 15-year old, meeting a tram conductress one day while returning from school. Later, a relationship develops between them (of course, physical) in which Michael is always kept dark about the details of Hanna’s life – both present and past. In a way, they don’t seem to be emotionally attached to each other.

And one day Hanna simply vanishes – I mean not like dead or something, she just leaves the place. Michael has no idea where she might have gone or at least where to look for her. Nothing to do about it, he simply moves forward with his own life.

After a long time, he happens to see her in court, as one of the group of law students observing a war crimes trial, among a group of middle-aged women SS guards. 

I don’t wanna say here what happens next.. Or how it’s gonna end.

Hanna seems to be a complex character, yet she was beautifully portrayed by the author, Bernhard Schlink.  I admire her for what she is.

I feel  Carol Brown Janeway deserves as much appreciation for his translation. It’s beautiful.

 

The Book

The Movie

 

Here are some of the passages from the book which captivated me:

 * * *  * 

If looking at someone with desire was as bad as satisfying the desire, if having an active fantasy was as bad as the act you were fantasizing—then why not the satisfaction and the act itself? As the days went on, I discovered that I couldn’t stop thinking sinful thoughts. In which case I also wanted the sin itself. 

* * *  * 

 But today I can recognize that events back then were part of a lifelong pattern in which thinking and doing have either come together or failed to come together—I think, I reach a conclusion, I turn the conclusion into a decision, and then I discover that acting on the decision is something else entirely, and that doing so may proceed from the decision, but then again it may not. Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do. Something—whatever that may be—goes into action; “it” goes to the woman I don’t want to see anymore, “it” makes the remark to the boss that costs me my head, “it” keeps on smoking although I have decided to quit, and then quits smoking just when I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a smoker and always will be. I don’t mean to say that thinking and reaching decisions have no influence on behavior. But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.

* * *  * 

Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever? Because things always end painfully if they contained pain, conscious or unconscious, all along? But what is unconscious, unrecognized pain? 

 * * *  * 

Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?

* * *  * 

So I stopped talking about it. There’s no need to talk, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does.

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