The Reader: A Novel by Bernhard SchlinkThe Reader: A Novel by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader: A Novel

byBernhard Schlink

Paperback | March 7, 1999

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Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
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 Berlin.
Title:The Reader: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 7.99 × 5.19 × 0.62 inPublished:March 7, 1999Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375707972

ISBN - 13:9780375707971

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Oprah's Book Club 2.0


Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult to get enthralled The description on the back of the book sounds enticing. I thought that I would be fully interested in reading this book however I was a little disappointed. It was hard to get interested in the plot line. The book did not gain my attention until the second chapter. I only kept reading because I was on a night and shift and no other books were available or I would have changed my reading material. After the second chapter the book became more interesting but I had predicted the ending in my head prior to reading the climax in the final chapter. If you have time to kill it is not the worst book I have ever read but definitely not my favorite.
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Read Recently read this, it was a good read. Simple yet the ending gets you wondering why it happened the way it happened. For recommendation, I suggest for people ages 16+ just because some of the content in the book.
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad quick read. the movie was well-done. read the book first then watch the movie!
Date published: 2017-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Read! It is not very often that I watch the movie before I read the book, but I have to confess that in this case I didn't know that the book existed until after I watched the movie (which I loved, by the way). While the characters in the book are not necessarily likeable, they are complex and fascinating, and I was deeply moved by Michael and Hanna's relationship. There are so many things going on this book, and the story could have easily gotten away from the author, but I thought he did a masterful job of keeping everything together and flowing. I highly recommend this book (and movie) to anyone who is interested in reading a different take on love, World War 2, and forgiveness.
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really made you think.... This is one of my favourite books. Although the characters can sometimes get on my nerves, the plot is very thought provoking. Bernhard Schlink portrays how difficult it was/ is for children to hear about Nazi Germany, and to understand why their parents. teachers, priests, etc. participated/ didn't stand against war. *SPOILER ALERT* Although some parts, such as Hanna's illiteracy, didn't really make sense, seeing as though her illiteracy does not make her blind to the horrors of her actions. Overall, it was definitely a good read.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good story I enjoyed this novel: good characters, story, and overall message about the effects of guilt on society. Recommended for anyone interested in WW II.
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Reader... Not Worth the Hype First, let me say that this was one of several books I had to read for a class, and it is not something I would normally choose myself to read. While I enjoyed all the other books I was assigned, this one I did not. I really do not see how so many people can say they loved this book. I found it to be quite boring, and unfortunately found myself counting how many more pages I had to endure. I thought the characters were unappealing (granted, we are not necessarily supposed to love Hanna), and boring to read about. I really did not find myself caring about or sympathizing with Michael when the women he loves disappears. The court cases are no more interesting than the characters' relationship/ personalities. Due to the hype this book has received, I thought it might be better than the average book you're normally assigned to read. However, I was disappointed. I would not recommend anyone purchase this book, nor would I bother leading my copy to anyone (unless they were looking for something to bore them to sleep). If you're a student buying this book, try to find it used and save your money!
Date published: 2011-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome I've read this book three times and seen the movie twice. Once I start reading, I find it hard to put it down. Difficult subject but really easy read.
Date published: 2011-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good But not great. It was too easy to put down to be great, but its definatley worth reading. Infact, I think its something I'd read again....
Date published: 2010-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Haunting- A Must Read Don't make the mistake of passing this by because it does'nt fit into the type of book you usually read. It is beautifully and quietly written story of a young boy and his affair with a much older woman, but more so the story that asks the questions Do we forgive? How long can guilt last? It is the story of Michael and Hanna told through the eyes of the Reader - the one who reads out loud to be heard. If you read one book this winter, let it be this one. A haunting tale that will stay with you long after the book is finished.
Date published: 2009-03-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lovely prose A 15-yr old boy falls in love and had a long, obsessive affair with a mysterious older woman. One day, the woman simply disappears and the next time he sees her, he was a lawyer and the woman is on trial for murder. Set in post-war Germany, this is a story about morals, holocaust, love, reading, and sex. That alone should be enough good reason to pick up this novel (I meant reading, not sex). It's not what I would call a page-turner (it took me 2 months to finally get around to finishing it), but it is an easy read. And although I prefer that it ended differently, Schlink writes in beautiful prose and manages to explore a complicated story with such simplicity. PS: I really like this poem excerpt in the novel: When we open ourselves you yourself to me and I myself to you, when we submerge you into me and I into you when we vanish into me you and into you I Then am I me and you are you.
Date published: 2009-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting... I guess I'm a tough customer. The author had me at the first chapter, but seemed to drift a little after that. It's a very interesting concept - older woman with young boy. (So much has changed, hasn't it?). I do have to say it's a great read for the beach when you're not looking for anything ground breaking or studious.
Date published: 2008-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Story with Moral Questions It is a touching story with deep thoughts about freedom of choice, dignity and our role in other people's life.
Date published: 2008-02-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too deep? I didn't really see the point to this book. Maybe it was too deep and went straight over my head, but it was kind of boring. I didn't like the relationship at all between Hanna and Michael, although I think that was the point. Questions were answered in the book, but they weren't satisfying. I don't really understand why Oprah has this book on her list.
Date published: 2006-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from amazing read i dont know how anyone could find this book void of emotion this book was full of emotion. infact i would go as far as to say that this book was really about emotion justas much as a historical display of effects of germany's past had on people. I read this book for a german history course and loved it. I sell many of my texts but this one is a keeper!
Date published: 2005-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant I can't understand those who found The Reader cold and boring. It is precisely the clean cut prose, without extraneous detail, that held me to each page. I was absorbed from the first page, finding it truthful and revealing, in both its simplicity and complexity - such a feat for an author to combine both. Early on, I did go back to the description of Hanna so I could imagine her physically, but then found by the end of the book that Schlink had allowed the reader to see her in their own minds,through his capacity to reveal her (and himself), bit by bit, never fully,of course, but her mystery added that unknown dimension where one could imagine, and draw one's own conclusions. His discovery of the secret behind the reading sessions was one such revelation which took my breath away. That was a moment. Schlink's philosophical insights gave me pause for thought - about the human condition. When I finished the last sentence of the chapter where Michael was planning to see Hanna the next day, upon her release, I gasped at the first sentence of the next chapter. I was terribly saddened/shocked by her ultimate action. I would recommend The Reader highly. Schlink is a marvellous storyteller who kept me connected to the characters, with admiration at his ability to see more, and beyond, the shadings of the light and darkness that dwell in us all. It is a treasure in my own library. I will read more of his works, for sure.
Date published: 2004-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazingly Intriguing The Reader is a wonderful story of young love, its growth, tragedies, and triumphs. Schlink successfully intertwines history with romance and intrigue. It is breathtaking and well written until the final words, which remain in the reader's head long after setting aside the novel. Amazingly well detailed and romantically enthralling.
Date published: 2004-07-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Topic... While the story itself interested me, I found it lacking in an emotional content. When I heard reviews that it was a very sensual and captivating read, I was disappointed to find the passion that existed with the main characters seemed to be discussed so factual. It may have been in the translation that some of the feelings were lost, I'm not sure, but I found the entire story very void of emotions and when I finished the story, I felt rather empty.
Date published: 2003-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from WOW This book is definitely not for everyone - I loved it! The characters were so complex and Schlink's writing grasped me into Michael's life. The novel is about so much more than the love affair that exists between Hanna and Michael. The novel challenges your thoughts and opinions and morals. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys good, reflective reading!!!!
Date published: 2001-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent sentimental novel i read "The Reader" for a novel study and i thought it was not only well written but astonishingly excellent. The descriptions of the couples feelings were very realistic and moving. So moving and realistic that, i couldn't control myself from sobbing at the compelling story of the characters' complex love relationship. More over, the novel let's the reader acknowledged the overwhelmingly powerful insight of a forbidden love between a boy and a woman. Making this a novel a must read and a must keep.
Date published: 2000-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent sentimental novel i read "The Reader" for a novel study and i thought it was not only well written but astonishingly excellent. The descriptions of the couples feelings were very realistic and moving. So moving and realistic that, i couldn't control myself from sobbing at the compelling story of the characters' complex love relationship. More over, the novel let's the reader acknowledged the overwhelmingly powerful insight of a forbidden love between a boy and a woman. Making this a novel a must read and a must keep.
Date published: 2000-09-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought prevoking To all of you who said it was dry and dull.... did you actually read this book? The author makes SO many statements and thoughts about things in life AND writes an emotional story. I thought it was wonderfully expressed and put together. I read it for a book club at school (NOT because it was an oprah book, i have better taste than that) and now that ive read it i reccomend it to anyone who is on my level of reading and likes thoughtful books and to people who just dont think about plot. It made me want to buy the book for my collection, which barely occurs.
Date published: 2000-04-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What a Waste of Time If your time and/or book buying money is precious like this student's is, do not waste either on this dry, plotless book.
Date published: 2000-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful I have never been so moved by a book, something in it struck me, touched me in a way a book has never done before...little character developement, but it is not needed...I loved it
Date published: 2000-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good read I started reading this book in both German and English as I was traveling through Germany last month. The english translation is a bit choppy, but very honest. I became completely immersed in this book. It was a emotional and philisophical journey. I can understand how many readers may not be able to relate or sympathize with the characters. Obviously, this book will appeal to certain generations and cultural sensibilities more than others. I recommend The Reader to anyone interested in the effects of war on the relationships of the post-war generation.
Date published: 2000-03-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Reader Very disappointing. Purchased on the sole fact that it was an Oprah pick. Did she actually read it? No character or story development. It could have been so much better. Perhaps it lost something in the translation.
Date published: 2000-03-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I snored all the way through I felt that the true feeling of the book may have been lost in translation. The characters were not developed enough, and the story dragged on and on and on. I did not feel any emotion, that the author may have been trying to portray.
Date published: 2000-01-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I am wondering if I missed something. I think that if it had been a 38 year old man with a 15 year old girl, Oprah might not have been so quick to recommend it. You have to pity Hanna. What an excuse for a woman. She not only threw her life away, but very selfishly messed up this young boy's life. Also, it was unbelievable that his family had no idea what was going on. In conclusion, I feel I wasted $14.95.
Date published: 2000-01-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hoping for More But Saw the Value in The Reader The Reader preview seized my attention and I expected a far more steamy and interesting plot between the characters( sexually speaking ). What I got was a very real and thought provoking story line, told through the eyes of a male as he grows and matures and tries to come to terms with horrible crimes from the past( history, maturity, life experience ). I feel sorry for Hanna and where she leads herself. Pride is not always a good thing.
Date published: 1999-12-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Slow Read The Reader starts off very slow, but once you get pass the first few chapters than the story will pull you in.
Date published: 1999-12-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Did Oprah actually read this? After reading this book, one has to doubt whether or not Oprah actually read the book. Lack of character development and just plain awful. I can't believe I actually read through the whole thing. I guess I was giving the book a chance to redeem itself. Big mistake!
Date published: 1999-12-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Last Time... This will be my last time buyiung any titles that Oprah recommends. The characters were not developed enough and the storyline dragged on. This was a book that I did not care if I finished or not.
Date published: 1999-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Reader I feel that the essence of the story is beautiful and I would definitely recommend this book to readers with an open mind. It is a light read, but there is a great deal of meaning behind the storyline, and it arouses many serious issues that would be discerned by a reader who is willing to ponder over the book. I simply loved it.
Date published: 1999-12-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Much Hype, Too Little Story After reading reviews and watching Oprah, I read this book. Unfortunately, it did not live up to all the hype. I would NOT recommend this book to anyone
Date published: 1999-12-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too bored to care I should have found the story disturbing, but I wasn't, I was rather unfelt. The author didn't develop either of the two main characters enough for me too care about either of them. I was too bored to care.
Date published: 1999-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Read! Somewhat predictable, but a great book nevertheless. As long as you can get over the "older woman and young man" scenario and understand that that is not the point of the book, it's really great. A quick and definitely worthy read!
Date published: 1999-11-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Cheated This book had potential, but the characters were not developed enough to feel any emotion for their situation. The plot could have been wonderfully gripping had the author not cheated us out of it...
Date published: 1999-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Reader Undisguisedly written, The Reader displays a uniquely simplistic view of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Bern takes us on a personal journey of love, confusion, betrayal, and shame; feelings he never finds peace with. Synonymous, perhaps, are the feelings of a nation devastated in 1945.
Date published: 1999-11-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought provoking I'm not surprised by all the negative reviews on this one. It does not have beautiful passages, endearing characters, or uplifting ideas. Yet -- it is a highly provocative book, bound to stimulate serious thought on a number of issues: responsibility in relationships, the nature of motivaton, the determination of guilt and innocense, the atmosphere in post-war Germany. The writing is simple and cold, but that coldness is purposeful. The story moved me along. I recommend it to the open-minded and serious reader. It is easy to chew but hard to digest.
Date published: 1999-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ambivalent I read this about a month ago and am not surprised by the reviews. I was ambivalent when I finished, but found I had lots to talk to friends about once I was done. The fact that there was so much to "debate" about the effects of the Holocaust and Hanna's personality makes it well worth reading.
Date published: 1999-09-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Yawner Perhaps something was lost in the translation, but I found this book to drag on and on. I kept hoping it would live up to my expectations but it just did not cut it. I never felt anything for the characters and never really cared to go on and yet I did. My advice to you is don't bother.
Date published: 1999-09-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Reader Truly disappointing. If the genders were reversed and the charcters were a 38 year old man and a 15 year old girl I wonder if Oprah and others would have found it so compelling.
Date published: 1999-09-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Reader Lousy. Terrible read, boring and what was Oprah thinking? I bet she didn't read this whole book. I skimmed through the book after the 3rd chapter, mainly because I need to "finish" a book. Certainly not buying any future books by same author.
Date published: 1999-09-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn't wait to put it down Although this novel had so many well-written poignant passages, I found Schlink's tale excrutiatingly slow-moving and disjointed. The relationship between Hannah and the young boy is painful, one-sided and unhealthy. I was glad when Hannah moved away and was disappointed that they met up again.
Date published: 1999-08-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn't wait to put it down Although this novel had so many well-written poignant passages, I found Schlink's tale excrutiatingly slow-moving and disjointed. The relationship between Hannah and the young boy is painful, one-sided and unhealthy. I was glad when Hannah moved away and was disappointed that they met up again.
Date published: 1999-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Summer Read I Have read a lot of reviews and I don't understand why all you people are getting so upset about this book. Let's remind ourselves that IT'S JUST A STORY. It was good, something different for a change I recomand the book it's a good read and something to talk about. Don't get me wrong I do think that its not right for what Hanna did with that 15 year old boy but,it really was a good book and easy to read.
Date published: 1999-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read I take great exception with the reviewer calling this book cold and unsentimental and lacking in style. Having recently read the book in Swedish, which is much closer to its original German, I found this book to be very well written -- demonstrating the numbness (bedoevning) that Berg and his generation feels when when judging the past. How can those of us born after 1945 really understand the horrors of the holocaust? This book, if the reader allows it, forces him/her to think about the motivations of the protagonists... The book is well-written and how can it be a sentimental book -- do we really want to feel sorry for Hanna?
Date published: 1999-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Summer Read Very fast and simple summer read -- I read "Book One" in two hours!! I enjoyed it .... Hanna should have known better.
Date published: 1999-08-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring Truly disappointing, especially since this was an Oprah pick. I kept expecting it to get better. It did when I finally got to the last page. Mercifully, it's a short novel. This story is told in such a cold manner, devoid of any sentiment, that I was unable to feel anything at all for the charachters or their perdicament. In other words the whole thing left me numb at the end, and bored throughout.
Date published: 1999-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Read Immediately puts you inside the character's head and spews insight on life and love with every event. Wonderfully moody and detailed. Not much is lost in the German to English translation, either. I believe that if you enjoyed Anne-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees (another one of Oprah's picks), then you might just enjoy this book as well. Well worth a try, and the $14.95 (plus it's a bestseller, so it's 30% off at Chapters stores). Bottom Line: Very erotic and moving, right from the very first page. You won't put it down.
Date published: 1999-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Read Immediately puts you inside the character's head and spews insight on life and love with every event. Wonderfully moody and detailed. Not much is lost in the German to English translation, either. I believe that if you enjoyed Anne-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees (another one of Oprah's picks), then you might just enjoy this book as well. Well worth a try, and the $14.95 (plus it's a bestseller, so it's 30% off at Chapters stores). Bottom Line: Very erotic and moving, right from the very first page. You won't put it down.
Date published: 1999-07-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This is Unberable Lightness!! This story, one which very well could have come form the imagination of Milan Kundera, has the basic makings of a masterpiece. Unfortunately the author fails to make his point, can not offer the lyrical prose of a master and ends up instead with a trite, boring read. The characters are one dimensional and dull and the climax of the story leaves you wondering ‘is that all?’ Trust me stick with the proven master. Read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and leave The Reader where it belongs: on the bookshelf
Date published: 1999-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an amazing book, simple, easy to read, although it contains passages and paragraphs that are so true, so moving, that you are forced to read them over and over again, and to write them down in your journal so that you never forget them. I loved it.
Date published: 1999-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from If you like details... This novel is extremely detail-oriented. It is uneventful but could be thought-provoking if you are fairly unknowledgeable about Nazi Germany. The main thrust of the novel is young boy meets older woman, falls for her, seeks closure. Additionally, the ending is totally obvious.
Date published: 1999-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! Compelling! This is an excellent, hard-to-put-down emotional and wonderful book. Highly recommended!
Date published: 1999-06-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Boring Read I really had to fight my way through this book...I found it quite boring and was disappointed given that it made Opra's list of books worth reading. I wouldn't add it to my list of recommendations.
Date published: 1999-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Reader A good read. I find it worthy of recommendation to anyone interested in a slightly unorthodox storyline, that leaves you curious of where the author could possibly take you next.
Date published: 1999-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sucks Big Time My title says it all. This book bites. Oprah failed big time this time. Don't waste your time or money.
Date published: 1999-05-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Reader I found this book very disturbing. As a mother of three teenage sons, I would be horrified if one of them were to have the experience the boy did in this story. This woman was a monster! A pedophile.
Date published: 1999-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Read I really enjoyed this book, and found the flow of the writing exceptional considering it was translated from German. I would rather not spoil the story for anyone who intends on reading it. Oprah's book club recommendation aside (since I bought the book for the interest the book jacket description aroused in me), I would highly recommend this book to anyone in my circle of friends. It opens the eyes of the reader to a different perspective on post-war Germany. It shows a sharp and even at times bitter reality though the growth, development, and even death of relationships of real individuals with real hang-ups and life stresses in a world where they were trying to make sense of and reparation for seemingly senseless acts of violence.
Date published: 1999-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from don't bother Oprah, your choices are becoming a little disappointing, no depth -- and this one was a downer, even for your list ... I will be more selective with regard to what I read from your listings in future ...
Date published: 1999-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Reader Oprah's latest pick takes us to post-war Germany. The narrator describes his nearly life-long relationship with an older woman who is, at times, his lover his friend and the cause of his angst. He is troubled by his own guilt and horror when he finds her on trial and convicted of Nazi war crimes. Yet he finds he cannot distance himself from her. An intriguing look at the psyche of a generation left behind to right the wrongs of its parents. Due to translation, the language is at times a bit choppy, but worth the time.
Date published: 1999-05-14

Read from the Book

Chapter OneWhen I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. It started in the fall and lasted until spring. As the old year darkened and turned colder, I got weaker and weaker. Things didn't start to improve until the new year. January was warm, and my mother moved my bed out onto the balcony. I saw sky, sun, clouds, and heard the voices of children playing in the courtyard. As dusk came one evening in February, there was the sound of a blackbird singing.The first time I ventured outside, it was to go from Blumenstrasse, where we lived on the second floor of a massive turn-of-the-century building, to Bahnhofstrasse. That's where I'd thrown up on the way home from school one day the previous October. I'd been feeling weak for days, in a way that was completely new to me. Every step was an effort. When I was faced with stairs either at home or at school, my legs would hardly carry me. I had no appetite. Even if I sat down at the table hungry, I soon felt queasy. I woke up every morning with a dry mouth and the sensation that my insides were in the wrong place and too heavy for my body. I was ashamed of being so weak. I was even more ashamed when I threw up. That was another thing that had never happened to me before. My mouth was suddenly full, I tried to swallow everything down again, and clenched my teeth with my hand in front of my mouth, but it all burst out of my mouth anyway straight through my fingers. I leaned against the wall of the building, looked down at the vomit around my feet, and retched something clear and sticky.When rescue came, it was almost an assault. The woman seized my arm and pulled me through the dark entryway into the courtyard. Up above there were lines strung from window to window, loaded with laundry. Wood was stacked in the courtyard; in an open workshop a saw screamed and shavings flew. The woman turned on the tap, washed my hand first, and then cupped both of hers and threw water in my face. I dried myself with a handkerchief."Get that one!" There were two pails standing by the faucet; she grabbed one and filled it. I took the other one, filled it, and followed her through the entryway. She swung her arm, the water sluiced down across the walk and washed the vomit into the gutter. Then she took my pail and sent a second wave of water across the walk.When she straightened up, she saw I was crying. "Hey, kid," she said, startled, "hey, kid"--and took me in her arms. I wasn't much taller than she was, I could feel her breasts against my chest. I smelled the sourness of my own breath and felt her fresh sweat as she held me, and didn't know where to look. I stopped crying.She asked me where I lived, put the pails down in the entryway, and took me home, walking beside me holding my schoolbag in one hand and my arm in the other. It's no great distance from Bahnhofstrasse to Blumenstrasse. She walked quickly, and her decisiveness helped me to keep pace with her. She said goodbye in front of our building.That same day my mother called in the doctor, who diagnosed hepatitis. At some point I told my mother about the woman. If it hadn't been for that, I don't think I would have gone to see her. But my mother simply assumed that as soon as I was better, I would use my pocket money to buy some flowers, go introduce myself, and say thank you, which was why at the end of February I found myself heading for Bahnhofstrasse.Chapter TwoThe building on Bahnhofstrasse is no longer there. I don't know when or why it was torn down. I was away from my hometown for many years. The new building, which must have been put up in the seventies or eighties, has five floors plus finished space under the roof, is devoid of balconies or arched windows, and its smooth façade is an expanse of pale plaster. A plethora of doorbells indicates a plethora of tiny apartments, with tenants moving in and out as casually as you would pick up and return a rented car. There's a computer store on the ground floor where once there were a pharmacy, a supermarket, and a video store.The old building was as tall, but with only four floors, a first floor of faceted sandstone blocks, and above it three floors of brickwork with sandstone arches, balconies, and window surrounds. Several steps led up to the first floor and the stairwell; they were wide at the bottom, narrower above, set between walls topped with iron banisters and curving outwards at street level. The front door was flanked by pillars, and from the corners of the architrave one lion looked up Bahnhofstrasse while another looked down. The entryway through which the woman had led me to the tap in the courtyard was a side entrance.I had been aware of this building since I was a little boy. It dominated the whole row. I used to think that if it made itself any heavier and wider, the neighboring buildings would have to move aside and make room for it. Inside, I imagined a stairwell with plaster moldings, mirrors, and an oriental runner held down with highly polished brass rods. I assumed that grand people would live in such a grand building. But because the building had darkened with the passing of the years and the smoke of the trains, I imagined that the grand inhabitants would be just as somber, and somehow peculiar--deaf or dumb or hunchbacked or lame.In later years I dreamed about the building again and again. The dreams were similar, variations on one dream and one theme. I'm walking through a strange town and I see the house. It's one in a row of buildings in a district I don't know. I go on, confused, because the house is familiar but its surroundings are not. Then I realize that I've seen the house before. I'm not picturing Bahnhofstrasse in my hometown, but another city, or another country. For example, in my dream I'm in Rome, see the house, and realize I've seen it already in Bern. This dream recognition comforts me; seeing the house again in different surroundings is no more surprising than encountering an old friend by chance in a strange place. I turn around, walk back to the house, and climb the steps. I want to go in. I turn the door handle.If I see the house somewhere in the country, the dream is more long-drawn-out, or I remember its details better. I'm driving a car. I see the house on the right and keep going, confused at first only by the fact that such an obviously urban building is standing there in the middle of the countryside. Then I realize that this is not the first time I've seen it, and I'm doubly confused. When I remember where I've seen it before, I turn around and drive back. In the dream, the road is always empty, as I can turn around with my tires squealing and race back. I'm afraid I'll be too late, and I drive faster. Then I see it. It is surrounded by fields, rape or wheat or vines in the Palatinate, lavender in Provence. The landscape is flat, or at most gently rolling. There are no trees. The day is cloudless, the sun is shining, the air shimmers and the road glitters in the heat. The fire walls make the building look unprepossessing and cut off. They could be the firewalls of any building. The house is no darker than it was on Bahnhofstrasse, but the windows are so dusty that you can't see anything inside the rooms, not even the curtains; it looks blind.I stop on the side of the road and walk over to the entrance. There's nobody about, not a sound to be heard, not even a distant engine, a gust of wind, a bird. The world is dead. I go up the steps and turn the knob.But I do not open the door. I wake up knowing simply that I took hold of the knob and turned it. Then the whole dream comes back to me, and I know that I've dreamed it before.Chapter ThreeI didn't know the woman's name.Clutching my bunch of flowers, I hesitated in front of the door and all the bells. I would rather have turned around and left, but then a man came out of the building, asked who I was looking for, and directed me to Frau Schmitz on the third floor.No decorative plaster, no mirrors, no runner. Whatever unpretentious beauty the stairwell might once have had, it could never have been comparable to the grandeur of the façade, and it was long gone in any case. The red paint on the stairs had worn through in the middle, the stamped green linoleum that was glued on the walls to shoulder height was rubbed away to nothing, and bits of string had been stretched across the gaps in the banisters. It smelled of cleaning fluid. Perhaps I only became aware of all this some time later. It was always just as shabby and just as clean, and there was always the same smell of cleaning fluid, sometimes mixed with the smell of cabbage or beans, or fried food or boiling laundry.I never learned a thing about the other people who lived in the building apart from these smells, the mats outside the apartment doors, and the nameplates under the doorbells. I cannot even remember meeting another tenant on the stairs.Nor do I remember how I greeted Frau Schmitz. I had probably prepared two or three sentences about my illness and her help and how grateful I was, and recited them to her. She led me into the kitchen.It was the largest room in the apartment, and contained a stove and sink, a tub and a boiler, a table, two chairs, a kitchen cabinet, a wardrobe, and a couch with a red velvet spread thrown over it. There was no window. Light came in through the panes of the door leading out onto the balcony--not much light; the kitchen was only bright when the door was open. Then you heard the scream of the saws from the carpenter's shop in the yard and smelled the smell of wood.The apartment also had a small, cramped living room with a dresser, a table, four chairs, a wing chair, and a coal stove. It was almost never heated in winter, nor was it used much in summer either. The window faced Bahnhofstrasse, with a view of what had been the railroad station, but was now being excavated and already in places held the freshly laid foundations of the new courthouse and administration buildings. Finally, the apartment also had a windowless toilet. When the toilet smelled, so did the hall.I don't remember what we talked about in the kitchen. Frau Schmitz was ironing; she had spread a woolen blanket and a linen cloth over the table; lifting one piece of laundry after another from the basket, she ironed them, folded them, and laid them on one of the two chairs. I sat on the other. She also ironed her underwear, and I didn't want to look, but I couldn't help looking. She was wearing a sleeveless smock, blue with little pale red flowers on it. Her shoulder-length, ash-blond hair was fastened with a clip at the back of her neck. Her bare arms were pale. Her gestures of lifting the iron, using it, setting it down again, and then folding and putting away the laundry were an exercise in slow concentration, as were her movements as she bent over and then straightened up again. Her face as it was then has been overlaid in my memory by the faces she had later. If I see her in my mind's eye as she was then, she doesn't have a face at all, and I have to reconstruct it. High forehead, high cheekbones, pale blue eyes, full lips that formed a perfect curve without any indentation, square chin. A broad-planed, strong, womanly face. I know that I found it beautiful. But I cannot recapture its beauty.

Bookclub Guide

US1. 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 to love?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' guilt?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 him?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 regime?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 defense?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 unforgivable sin?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?

From Our Editors

When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. She becomes his lover, and then mysteriously disappears. When Michael next sees Hanna, he's a young law student - she's on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael realizes that Hanna is guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder. A story of love and secrets, crime and compassion in post-war Germany, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is a deeply moving novel of a young boy's erotic awakening.

Editorial Reviews

"A formally beautiful, disturbing and finally morally devastating novel." —Los Angeles Times"Moving, suggestive and ultimately hopeful. . . . [The Reader] leaps national boundaries and speaks straight to the heart." —The New York Times Book Review"Arresting, philosophically elegant, morally complex. . . . Mr. Schlink tells his story with marvelous directness and simplicity." —The New York Times"Haunting. . . . What Schlink does best, what makes this novel most memorable, are the small moments of highly charged eroticism." —Francine Prose, Elle