The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

A book that made me wait quite a bit before it reached my hands. I have always loved Jodi Picoult’s books. I am yet to be disappointed by her books.
Storyteller

Sage Singer is a baker. The profession works perfectly for the kind of person she is, she works at night, getting bread ready for the morning, while everybody else is fast asleep, managing to avoid contact and conversation with people. She is a loner, finds it tough to meet people or make friends. She has terrible scars on her face which is still struggling to come to terms with. The only place that she meets people is the bereavement group that she attends. Even there, she hardly talks about the demons that haunt her. She is having an affair with a married man, sure that she is just worth that.

She meets Josef Weber, a 95-year-old man, in the bereavement group and an unlikely friendship forms between them. One day, Josef asks a favour of her, to help him die. Sage refuses outright until he confesses his secret that he has hidden within himself for many years. It hits too close to home for Sage. Josef wants forgiveness before he dies. Is it ever going to be possible for Sage to forgive him and help him? What makes her the person to forgive him? As she questions him and finds answers, she finds herself going deep into her own history, her grandmother’s life as a Holocaust survivor, which so far, Sage knew little about.

The flashbacks to her grandmother, Minka’s life as a child and her time in Auschwitz is a harrowing read. It is unimaginable that people could do such things to other people. It is difficult to imagine anyone surviving the horrors of the holocaust, and the scars that must have stayed with them for life. Despite having read loads on the Holocaust, this was still a harrowing read for me. Josef Weber’s life, which is related as a flashback as well, gives us a perspective from the other side – the German side.

Picoult, as usual, picks up a tough and emotional topic and then weaves a tale which we just can’t put down. The beginning is a little slow, but it soon picks up and doesn’t let go until the very last page. There is a story within a story, which is fascinating and the way it all comes together in the end, is just classic Picoult. I loved the parts where Sage’s(and Minka’s dad’s)bread making process is described. It made me go and search for the recipes mentioned there, but that’s probably just me. I could almost smell the bread. There is also another story that being told as a separate thread. How it all ties together, is the beauty of the book.

As usual, her characters all feel real, sometimes not very likeable, sometimes annoying, but definitely real. It was thought-provoking, it challenges the way we might want to think, and as usual, it makes you wonder, how you might have reacted in a similar situation. Just like Picoult always does. The several threads in the story make it fascinating reading, and I just loved the way, it all comes together in the end. I particularly loved the end.

For me, it was a wonderful read, difficult at times, especially when the horrors of the Holocaust was described, but well worth it. A book that stays with you. I would give it a 4.5/5. If you like Picoult’s books, I would say, go for it!

About the Author
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island, New York. Her first story, at age 5 was “The Lobster Which Misunderstood.” She studied writing at Princeton University, graduating in 1987, and had two short stories published by Seventeen magazine while still in college. She is the best selling author with several best-sellers to her credit.

This book is available at Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Saksh asked me to read this, and going by previous experience, I immediately placed a request at my library. Only after I started reading the book, did I make the connection with the movie(which I have not seen, by the way, but had read about).

I honestly don’t know where to start to talk about this book. I read it in one go. Could not put it down. It was that engrossing. It takes you through a lot.  Micheal Berg, a fifteen year old school boy, goes to thank a woman, Hanna , who saved his life when he came down with hepatitis, and ends up having an affair with her. One day, she disappears from his life, leaving no clues, no messages, nothing. He tries to find her, but finally gives up. He also wallows in guilt wondering if he had done something to drive her away.

The next time he sees her, she is in a courtroom, a defendant in a trial related to the Holocaust. Micheal Berg’s struggle with the demons of history that his previous generation has handed to his, his guilt over his relationship with Hanna,his guilt that he has in some way, betrayed Hanna, so many emotions, so many angles, so well etched out. Hanna’s struggles with her own secrets. The most important thing that this book, brought out for me, was how the German generation which came into being, after the war, struggled with the moral dilemma, the second-hand guilt that has come along with their heritage.

Micheal and Hanna’s relationship has been handled beautifully. A subject which could easily become sleazy, has remained what it was – a relationship between two people who had their own history.

I am not going into the details of the story, because I do think that this is a book that we should all read, and I do not want to give away too much. Why is it called the reader? Well, you have to read it to find out. And now, I want to watch the movie too. Saksh – can’t thank you enough for recommending this book.