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Library Journal Review
After falling ill on the street in the German town where he lives, 15-year-old Michael is helped by a woman named Hanna. When he returns to her apartment to thank her several months later, he begins a passionate love affair with her. In time, she demands that he read aloud to her before they make love, and they essay some of Germany's and the world's great literature together. One day, however, Hanna disappears without saying farewell, and Michael grieves and believes it to be his fault. He finds her again years later when, as a law student, he encounters her as the defendant in a court case. To reveal more of the plot would be unfair, but this very readable novel by German author Schlink probes the nature of love, guilt, and responsibility while painting a sympathetic portrait of Michael and an achingly complex picture of Hanna. Recommended for most collections.Michael T. O'Pecko, Towson State Univ., Md. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Another in the spate of soul-searching post-Holocaust German novels that have made their way here, this elegant if derivative triptych chronicles the relationship of narrator Michael Berg, a young bourgeois man who becomes a legal historian, with working-class Hanna Schmitz, 20 years his senior and (as it turns out) a former SS officer. They meet in the 1950s, when he is 15: she rescues him when he falls ill in the street from the effects of hepatitis. His thank-you visit results in months of trysts; the lovers develop a routine that involves Michael reading aloud from the German classics. Part Two opens at Hanna's trial 10 years later for war crimes: assigned by chance to observe the trial, Michael continues his strange role as her reader, sending her tapes in prison until, in Part Three, the two finally, and tragically, meet again. Some readers may object to Schlink's insistently withheld moral judgments: he never treats Hanna as just a villain. Yet this well-translated novel indisputably offers a philosophical look at the "numbness" that settled over German culture during the war and that (Schlink seems to say) infects it to this day. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
YAMichael Berg, 15, is on his way home from high school in post-World War II Germany when he becomes ill and is befriended by a woman who takes him home. When he recovers from hepatitis many weeks later, he dutifully takes the 40-year-old Hanna flowers in appreciation, and the two become lovers. The relationship, at first purely physical, deepens when Hanna takes an interest in the young man's education, insisting that he study hard and attend classes. Soon, meetings take on a more meaningful routine in which after lovemaking Michael reads aloud from the German classics. There are hints of Hanna's darker side: one inexplicable moment of violence over a minor misunderstanding, and the fact that the boy knows nothing of her life other than that she collects tickets on the streetcar. Content with their arrangement, Michael is only too willing to overlook Hanna's secrets. She leaves the city abruptly and mysteriously, and he does not see her again until, as a law student, he sits in on her case when she is being tried as a Nazi criminal. Only then does it become clear that Hanna is illiterate and her inability to read and her false pride have contributed to her crime and will affect her sentencing. The theme of good versus evil and the question of moral responsibility are eloquently presented in this spare coming-of-age story that's sure to inspire questions and passionate discussion.Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
A compact portrayal of a teenaged German boy's love affair with an emotionally remote older woman, and the troubled consequence of his discovery of who she really is and why she simultaneously needed him and rejected him. Seven years after their intimacy, university student Michael Berg accidentally learns that (now) 40ish Hannah Schmitz had concealed from him a past that reaches back to Auschwitz and had burdened her with nightmares from which her young lover was powerless to awaken her. Toward its climax, the novel becomes, fitfully, frustratingly abstract, but on balance this is a gripping psychological study that moves skillfully toward its surprising and moving conclusion. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.