***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***
Why does the title sound so familiar? It was adapted into a film in 2008 and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards and Kate Winslet deservedly won the award for Best Actress. But this post isn’t a movie review. It’s a book one.
The book is by author Bernhard Schlink and it can be considered a semi-autobiographical novel. It incorporates love, guilt, human loss and coming to terms with the past. The book is set in 1950s Germany. The protagonist is a 15 year old boy by the name of Michael and his infatuated affair with Hanna, a woman twice his age. His naivety to the relationships plunges him into a world of deception and lies as well as wounds that the German people continue to carry with them.
The book is set in three parts and is told from Michael’s perspective. The first part details the blooming relationship between the two which is without warning cut short as Hanna disappears from both Michael’s life and the town they both reside in. Part two sees Michael reunited with his love as she stands trial for Nazi war crimes and he is a law student observing the proceedings. The final part sees Michael sending the imprisoned Hanna mail with the comfort of knowing that she is far away from him. However his ‘comfort bubble’ is soon popped once he learns of her pending release.
The book sees Michael struggling with the guilt at not knowing who she really was as well as trying to remember her as he once did before the trial projected her in a different light thus clouding his perception. Schlink uses Hanna to represent Germany with Michael’s view of her changing after he learned of her acts committed during the Second World War. As did the world’s view of Germany change after they learned of the atrocities committed. Despite this, Michael’s harsh view of his former lover is altered when he learns of a secret she sees more shameful than the past she hid from him. A secret so shameful that it is one she will be willing to go to prison forever as long as it remains just that.
During the trial Hanna asked the judge what he would have done had he been in her position thus the novel has the reader placing themselves in the accused shoes. Schlink shows us that in order for Germany to move on from the past, the act of forgiveness needs to be done. I highly recommend this book to all the history buffs of the world and even those who have never heard of Adolf Hitler as the themes of love, guilt and forgiveness will draw you in.