Wednesday, August 19, 2009
by Bernhard Schlink and Carol Brown Janeway
The editorial reviews about this book do a great disservice to the novel. (Sometimes I wonder if the reviewers actually read the book.
I don't consider this in any way a YA novel -- the themes are way too adult and the introspection and examination of conscience of the adult writer aren't reflective of that young adult point of view.)
That said, this is a fantastic novel. I was glued to the pages, examining my own reactions to what was happening and trying to summon the outrage one should feel when a 15 year old boy is having a sexual affair with a 30 something woman. He should be viewed as a victim. I couldn't summon that assessment.
This is a beautiful and haunting story of a 15 year old boy named Michael, whom she called "Kid", who has an intense love affair with a 30 something woman named Hanna -- a streetcar conductor. He knows nothing of her past, and their relationship is mostly physical. She disappears suddenly once day and Michael next sees her when he's a law student in 1965 Germany as the war trials of the Nazi criminals are getting underway.
He is both stunned and repulsed when seeing his former paramour as an SS guard criminal. He can't reconcile his love of her to what she had done during the war. Michael is in a state of suspended ambiguity. Should he feel guilty for having loved her -- a reviled and heinous war criminal with the worst of reputations? A quote at the end of Chapter one in Part 2 sums up how Michael faces the truth of his lover and how he responds to it: "I adopted a posture of arrogant superiority...this juxtaposition of callousness and extreme sensitivity seemed suspicious even to me."
The book is divided into 3 parts and deals mostly with Micheal's feelings about his relationship with Hanna, his reaction to her trial, and the final chapter as he comes to terms with all that has happened.
This is a novel that is not to be missed. One that can be discussed at length in book groups everywhere or just between friends. I can't get it out of my mind.
The reason for the title becomes clear midway through the novel.