Tonight we will discuss Berhard Schlink’s The Readerfor novel writing class. I admit: I read it twice. I will help lead the discussion and wanted to get a firm grasp on what has been called a “moral maze.” (I also had time due to a cancelled class.) The novel’s central love story involves a fifteen-year-old Michael and a much older woman, Hanna.
In the later parts of the novel Michael, a young law student, watches her trial for war crimes committed during the Holocaust. Michael realizes during the trial that Hanna is illiterate and unable to read the charges against her or set up a defense. She admits to her crimes readily. But because she is busy trying to hide her illiteracy, she appears more guilty than her fellow female guards. She is sentenced to life in prison.
Hanna spends eighteen years in jail, where she learns to read and write with the aid of books Michael reads on cassette and sends to her. The rest you will have to read for yourself. It is a post World War II tale that asks its readers to consider life in the aftermath of terrific violence.
"When rescue came, it was almost an assault." (4)
"I didn't reveal anything that I should have kept to myself. I kept something to myself that I should have revealed." (74)
"When I think about it now, I think that our eagerness to assimilate the horrors and our desire to make everyone else aware of them was in fact repulsive." (93)
"All survivor literature talks about this numbness, in which life's functions are reduced to a minimum, behavior becomes completely selfish and indifferent to others, and gassing and burning everyday occurrences." (103)
"Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt?" (104)
"If felt the numbness with which I had followed the horrors of the trial settling over the emotions and thoughts of the past few weeks. . . . But I felt it was right. It allowed me to return to and continue to live my everyday life." (160)
"Pointing at the guilty parties did not free us from shame, but at least it overcome the suffering we went through on account of it." (170)
"You can chase someone away by setting them in a niche." (199)
"The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive." (217)