Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

When Yoonjin-san recommended this book to me (she also lent it to me :D), she mentioned that she thought of the colonial-colony relationship when she read the book. Which should indicate to you how deep this book is. While I can't do the book justice in the review (that would require the luxury of time to properly study and analyse the book), I will try.

The reader deals with the legacy of Nazi Germany. The narrator -Michael Berg, meets Hanna when he falls ill on the way home from school. As a result (and even though she is more than twice his age), they embark on a complicated affair, which reminds me of a power struggle. (I'll insert a warning here that there are pretty explicit scenes so if you're young, think twice before reading this book).

But one day, Hanna leaves without warning and it's only later that Michael sees her. At a trial for the Nazi's, sparking a long process where he tries to come to terms with their relationship.

This book is beautifully written and moving. Michael is used as a vehicle to explore various issues - love, cultural/historical legacies, family etc. Of course, with all these heavy themes, the book borders on self-pity some of the times. But mostly, it does a good job of exploring the issues.

But about the whole colonial issue I mentioned, I can really see why she thought of it. The relationship between Michael and Hanna is very much similar to a colonial-colony relationship. It's a power struggle, with various tactics used to to maintain order. And the whole abrupt departure of Hanna reminds me of how Singapore was "kicked out" of the British Empire (but strictly speaking, we were supposed to join with Malaysia. And we kinda wanted to leave by that time -it was after WWII- so our feelings were like Michael's). And of course, now we're all obsessing over it and trying to figure out our attitude towards our former colonial masters. (But if you read the book, you'll wonder at the implications of Hanna's secret in relation to the colonial masters)

And really, placing it after WWII was a stroke of genius. The spark that set of our desire for independence was because of what we went through during the war. And as you know, these things reverberate through the generations because of family, the education system, etc. So even though I'm not part of the post-war generation, I can understand the atmosphere of the society in that book. When something of this magnitude happens, you can't help but react.

Although the book is called "The Reader", the book looks at other issues. But early on, there's a beautiful passage on books that I want to share:

"Being ill when you are a child or growing up is such an enchanted interlude! The outside world, the world of free time in the yard or the garden or on the street, is only a distant murmur in the sickroom. Inside, a whole world of characters and stories proliferate out of the books you read. The fever that weakens your perception as it sharpens your imagination turns the sickroom into something new, both familiar and strange; monsters come grinning out of the patterns on the curtains and the carpet, and chairs, tables, bookcases and wardrobes burst out of their normal shapes and become mountains and buildings and ships you can almost touch although they're far away. Through the long hours of the night you have the Church clock for company and the rumble of the occasional passing car that throws it's headlights across the walls and ceilings. These are hours without sleep, which is not to say they're sleepless, because on the contrary, they're not about lack of anything, they are rich and full. Desires, memories, fears, passions form labyrinths in which we lose and find then lose ourselves again. They are hours where anything is possible, good or bad."

No comments :

Post a Comment

I really do appreciate all comments, and I'll try my best to reply within 24 hours!