Book review: The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

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. Goodreads.

One of the reasons why it’s hard for me to watch a movie after I read the book is embracing the disappointment when the movie veers faraway from the book or forgot a certain details from the book. The same goes as why it’s also hard for me to read the book after seeing the movie beforehand. I was worried that maybe I’ll be bias towards the original story, having come prepared. I’m also suspicious that I would see the actors themselves in the book as oppose to having the characters breathe for themselves within the story. But I have loved the movie so much, I feel like I owe the book a chance to speak for itself. Thankfully it was years ago that I had seen the movie, and although I still remember vividly the storyline, I can’t remember the actors that I can let Michael and Hanna speak for themselves this time around.

I think I was addicted with how Michael had brought life to his story. All his confused thoughts, his philosophical questions, his raging hormones and his outpouring desires towards Hanna had made it hard for me to put the book down. At one point, a guy sitting next to me on a plane asked whether the book I was reading was any good seeing that I was so engrossed in it, and to my dismay I couldn’t form a single coherent reason to explain how much I had enjoyed the book. To much disappointment, I had answered his question, “oh well, it’s a book, what can I say?”.

To be honest, I was a bit reluctant to bring this book on my recent trip to Manila, I was worried about its erotic content. I remember clearly that the movie was somewhat erotic without being cheap (still erotic, and I remember my Mum had entered my room when I watched it. I’m sure she thought I was watching some weird ass porn at that time), but thankfully the book was much the same. There was some erotic aspect to it, and I can tell that the first few sexual encounter was very much driven towards lust, but later on it became sort of a genuine attraction (at least on Michael’s part). Those erotic moments, I felt, was written beautifully without coming as some sort of cheap frivolous porn novels.

Now, one of the interesting thing about reading this book is that I didn’t actually read it in its original language. I had a friend who said that she was a bit disappointed by the quality of the translation, and I had wished so hard I could gave out comments like that. Problem is that I speak no German for me to be able to see or understand what was it from the translation that she was disappointed about. As ignorant as I might sound, I can’t say that I have any complaint whatsoever about the translation, if anything at least I can now read the original story that inspired the movie in a language that I understand.

So, eroticism and translation apart, where do I stand on the book? I love the book. I love the story. I love how Michael had took me along his adventure. I regret together with Michael the last time he had met Hanna. I felt his void when Hanna was no longer around. I felt his shock when he saw Hanna again. I feel his frustration over Hanna wanting to keep her secret. I felt and (at least tried to) understood Michael’s confusion over what to do with Hanna. At the end of the day, I still can’t be sure if Hanna was Michael’s ultimate love, but it’s sweet to have thought so, yes?

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆

Title: The Reader

Author: Bernhard Schlink

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Goodreads link

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