Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany in 1944. A professor of law at
the University of Berlin and a practicing judge, he is also the
author of several prize-winning crime novels. He lives in Bonn and
1. At what point does the significance of the book''s title
become clear to you? Who is "The Reader"? Are there others in the
story with an equally compelling claim to this role?
2. When does the difference in social class between Hanna and
Michael become most clear and painful? Why does Hanna feel
uncomfortable staying overnight in Michael''s house? Is Hanna angry
about her lack of education?
3. Why is the sense of smell so important in this story? What is
it about Hanna that so strongly provokes the boy''s desire? If
Hanna represents "an invitation to forget the world in the recesses
of the body" [p. 16], why is she the only woman Michael seems able
4. One reviewer has pointed out that "learning that the love of
your life used to be a concentration camp guard is not part of the
American baby-boomer experience." [Suzanna Ruta, The New York Times
Book Review, July 27, 1997: 8] Is The Reader''s
central theme--love and betrayal between generations--particular to
Germany, given the uniqueness of German history? Is there anything
roughly parallel to it in the American experience?
5. In a novel so suffused with guilt, how is Michael guilty?
Does his narrative serve as a
way of putting himself on trial? What verdict does he reach? Is he
asking readers to examine the evidence he presents and to condemn
him or exonerate him? Or has he already condemned himself?
6. When Michael consults his father about Hanna''s trial, does
his father give him good advice? Why does Michael not act upon this
advice? Is the father deserving of the son''s scorn and
disappointment? Is Michael''s love for Hanna meant, in part, to be
an allegory for his generation''s implication in their parents''
7. Do you agree with Michael''s judgment that Hanna was
sympathetic with the prisoners she chose to read to her, and that
she wanted their final month of life to be bearable? Or do you see
Hanna in a darker light: do the testimonies about her cruelty and
sadism ring true?
8. Asked to explain why she didn''t let the women out of the
burning church, Hanna remembers being urgently concerned with the
need to keep order. What is missing in her reasoning process? Are
you surprised at her responses to the judge''s attempt to prompt
her into offering self-defense as an excuse?
9. Why does Hanna twice ask the judge, "what would you have
done?" Is the judge sympathetic toward Hanna? What is she trying to
communicate in the moment when she turns and looks directly at
10. Why does Michael visit the concentration camp at Struthof?
What is he seeking? What does he find instead?
11. Michael comments that Enlightenment law (the foundation of
the American legal system as well as the German one) was "based on
the belief that a good order is intrinsic to the world" [p. 181].
How does his experience with Hanna''s trial influence Michael''s
view of history and of law?
12. What do you think of Michael''s decision to send Hanna the
tapes? He notices that the books he has chosen to read aloud
"testify to a great and fundamental confidence in bourgeois
culture" [p. 185]. Does the story of Hanna belie this faith? Would
familiarity with the literature she later reads have made any
difference in her willingness to collaborate in Hitler''s
13. One might argue that Hanna didn''t willfully collaborate
with Hitler''s genocide and that her decisions were driven only by
a desire to hide her secret. Does this view exonerate Hanna in any
way? Are there any mitigating circumstances in her case? How would
you have argued for her, if you were a lawyer working in her
14. Do you agree with the judgment of the concentration camp
survivor to whom Michael delivers Hanna''s money at the end of the
novel? Why does she accept the tea tin, but not the money? Who knew
Hanna better--Michael or this woman? Has Michael been deluded by
his love? Is he another of Hanna''s victims?
15. Why does Hanna do what she does at the end of the novel?
Does her admission that the dead "came every night, whether I
wanted them or not" [pp. 198-99] imply that she suffered for her
crimes? Is complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust an
16. How does this novel leave you feeling and thinking? Is it
hopeful or ultimately despairing? If you have read other Holocaust
literature, how does The Reader compare?