I borrowed this from Rizal Library after seeing a copy of it at a book sale and bypassing it, after an exercise of tremendous restraint. (At the time I was still under the false impression that I could live without purchasing books and merely borrowing from libraries. I gave up on this idea some time ago, when I was seized by a sudden yearning for books and ended up splurging more than half my part-time salary at the UP book sale.) I had high expectations for this novel because I really enjoyed its 2008 film adaptation, and experience has shown that most of the time original books are far better than their movie versions. The Reader disappointed me, however. While I absolutely loved the plot, which I felt was refreshingly original, I found its rendering inadequate and somewhat incomplete. Mostly I found the narrator too intrusive in his frequent monologues. As a firm believer in “show, don’t tell” rule, I did not like that he expounded excessively on his thoughts and feelings. More than once I felt that he was imposing himself unnecessarily on the situation instead of letting the events speak for themselves. But still, the novel does have its moments. One of its clear achievements is its startlingly beautiful, whole portrayal of Hanna Schmitz. I was especially marveled by Schlink’s handling of the last few pages, where Hanna’s physical disappearance only makes her come alive all the more.
I scanned some comments online and found that at least one critic has complained against the novel’s alleged attempt to make the reader sympathize with Hanna and by extension other Nazi soldiers. I disagree with that last bit. I admit that I sympathized with Hanna but I do not think that translates to granting her any sort of absolution, even just a partial one. I think it only allows for some understanding of her particular condition. The Holocaust was a horrific event, true, but that does not mean that we have to spend our whole lives pointing fingers at each other. The novel concerns itself so much with condemnation, and yes, justice has to be exacted, but I don’t think that should be our only response to situations like this. Much more important than punishing people is reconciling ourselves with an irrevocable past and deciding what to do from that point onwards.
It was more as if she had withdrawn into her own body, and left it to itself and its own quiet rhythms, unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world.
Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever?
It was as if I were condemned to ride forever in an empty car to nowhere.
After Hanna left the city, it took a while before I stopped watching for her everywhere, before I got used to the fact that afternoons had lost their shape, and before I could look at books and open them without asking myself whether they were suitable for reading aloud.
It wasn’t that I forgot Hanna. But at a certain point the memory of her stopped accompanying me wherever I went.
I wanted her far away from me, so unattainable that she could continue as the mere memory she had become and remained all these years.
I had met Hanna again on the benches as an old woman. She had looked like an old woman and smelled like an old woman. I hadn’t noticed her voice at all. Her voice had stayed young.