The Reader – Bernhard Schlink

The Reader

“Imagine someone is racing intentionally towards his own destruction and you can save him – do you go ahead and save him?  Imagine there’s an operation and the patient is a drug user and the drugs are incompatible with the anesthetic, but the patient is ashamed of being an addict and does not want to tell the anaesthesiologist – do you talk to the anesthesiologist?  Imagine a trial and a defendant who will be convicted if he doesn’t admit to being left-handed – do you tell the judge what’s going on?  Imagine he’s gay, and could not have committed the crime because he’s gay, but is ashamed of being gay.  It isn’t a question of whether the defendant should be ashamed of being left-handed or gay – just imagine that he is.”

The Reader is one of those books so disturbing and so devastating that you’re not sure what to do with yourself afterwards.  I finished it on a Saturday night after attending The Nutcracker ballet with my mom, and my intention had been to read something lighter immediately afterwards.  I did quite the opposite – having never seen the film, I looked it up on Netflix and started it when I felt like I could breathe again.  I’ve never done that before – watched a film adaptation immediately after reading the book.  It makes it easier to point out the differences between both, and even with critically acclaimed movies like this, I still prefer to read the book first – hence putting off watching this movie for six years.

What can you say about a book that includes not only Nazi crimes but also statutory rape?  It centres around a deeply sexual relationship between a 15 year old boy and a 36 year old illiterate woman who makes the boy read to her. And Bernhard Schlink is such a beautiful writer.  He writes their relationship and their sex beautifully but you don’t want to like it, because it’s so wrong as a relationship – I found myself squirming in my seat because of how polarizing it was.

It is an amazing book at its core, disturbing content aside.  What I tried to take away from the deeply devastating experience of reading the book and then watching the film back to back was how the tradition of reading orally is kind of lost in my life.  Fellow reader Sydney is getting her friends to read out sections of the books she reads, which is such a beautiful, amazing idea.   I want to bring that back into my life – reading words, especially beautifully-strung assemblies of words, aloud rather than keeping them to myself.

Books read: 11

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3 responses to “The Reader – Bernhard Schlink

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