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A better read: “The Reader”

“I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding.”
The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink.

After reading this book for the first time, I only wanted to read it again. Of course, I just had to race to the nearest Blockbuster and rent the film as soon as possible. Unfortunately with the film version, I was sorely disappointed.

“The Reader,” written by Berhard Schlink and translated by Carol Brown Jane, is not only beautifully written, but philosophically enticing. After a referral to check it out, I lucked out in finding an older copy at a local thrift store (for way cheaper than it’s worth).

From the first page, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it a few hours later.

The story focuses on a young man named Michael, who, at age 15, begins a relationship with a woman named Hanna. Hanna is about twice his age, but they continue to have this strange sexual relationship, which includes him reading to her preceding sex or after sex. Michael is in love with Hanna despite her abuse, and she disappears a few months after the relationship begins. It’s only at a trial for Holocaust war crimes that they see each other again.

I know, it’s sounds really girly…or erotic. The book was really neither of those. It actually focused on German guilt.

The story, taking place in 1958, follows Michael as he falls in love with someone who was a part of the Holocaust in a way that he had never imagined. “The Reader” shows the mind of the generation whose parents and family were responsible for the atrocities of Nazi Germany. It also concentrates on the concept of illiteracy in relation to the understanding of what happened during that time.

There’s some pretty heavy stuff in the book. It’s beautifully displayed through diction, and can, at times, sound like poetry. I was so moved by the book that I wanted to see it on the big screen. Considering my favorite actress, Kate Winslet, plays one of the starring roles, I was sure I wouldn’t be let down.

Part of me knew that the Hollywood version would most likely focus on the sexual part (big surprise!), which it totally did. Yes, their relationship was focused on sex in the film, but the book had a different way of describing it. It wasn’t vivid or raunchy as some of it appeared in the film.

The beautiful relationship portrayed in the book became a much more promiscuous ordeal in the film version. There is quite a bit of nudity in the film, too, so keep that in mind before you watch it with someone who may be uncomfortable with that.

In all, the film gave a narrow glimpse of the book’s main focus, and really purpose, in my opinion. If I hadn’t read the book, I may have enjoyed it more. Knowing that there’s much more to the story than what the film portrayed, it’s disheartening that some of the more philosophical aspects weren’t brought up as intelligently, if at all, as they were in Schlink’s book.