How do you reconcile an odious past with the present? How do you even begin conceiving a promising future when the evils of the past linger on?
This is the major dilemma presented by Bernhard Schlink in his novel, The Reader.
I did a bit of research and they have a term for it in German: Vergangenheitsbewältigung — the struggle to come to terms with the past.
The novel revolves around the life of Michael Bern and his encounters with Hanna Schmitz, a former guard at a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.
There exists introspection within Michael, having fallen in love with a woman who years ago saved his life, gave him direction and motivation to reach his ambitions — a woman who later on gets convicted for the death of many.
As he unravels Hanna’s past and her secret, Michael begins to question his principles, his ideas, and, more so, his moral judgments. Is he a bad person for loving someone who’s involved in the Holocaust? How is the Hanna she knew and loved the same person as the one convicted of the atrocities described in the trials?
To further set up the setting, I also watched the documentary The Accountant of Auschwitz on Netflix prior to reading the novel. It tackles the same dilemma and gives a more recent picture of the struggle of reconciling the past with the present. To be honest, it’s all heavy to watch and read, but there is plenty to learn.
We need to learn from the mistakes of the past so we don’t make them again. This is the only way we can start envisioning a bright and fulfilling tomorrow.
If you have to time to spare for a little over 200 pages, this is a good read. I definitely suggest you include it in your TBR. I give this book 4 stars.
Oh! There is also a movie version starring Kate Winslet. I remember seeing it before but I already forgot much of the details.
- Title: The Reader
- Author: Bernhard Schlink
- Year published: 1997
- Publisher: Phoenix Paperback
- Total number of pages: 216
- ISBN-13: 978-0-753-80470-4
- Purchased from: Shopee (preloved)
- Purchase price: Php 230.00