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The Reader

March 19, 2009


15 year old Michael Berg had an affair with Hanna Schmitz during the summer of 1958 in Germany.  Michael spent as much time at Hanna’s as he could and she took great delight in him reading to her.  The affair ended abruptly when she moved without telling him.  Several years later, when Michael is in law school, he attends the trial of several women charged of war crimes.  He’s shocked to see one of the women is Hanna.  The women are quick to place all of the blame on Hanna and she accepts it rather than admit she’s illiterate.  She is sentenced to life in prison and while there, she teaches herself to read.

I enjoyed seeing the movie version of The Reader, but it left me with a heavy feeling.  I’ve read a lot of criticism about this movie – many people have said Hanna was a murderess, so they didn’t care if she could read or not.  I felt like there was so much more to the story than that.  For me, this was a love story.  Michael carried his love for Hanna for the rest of his life.  When the judge asked Hanna why she acted the way she did, she replied that she was a guard and asked him what he would have done.  This brought up lots of issues for me.  While I abhor what was done in the concentration camps, it made me realize that some of the people did what they did trying to survive.  (This in no way excuses the behavior, it just explains it.)  All of society knew what was going on, but turned a blind eye to it and should have shared in the blame.  After the fact they were quick to condemn the behavior, but they did nothing to stop it while it was going on.  This movie does contain nudity.  Kate Winslet won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2009 8:35 am

    I read THE READER many years ago when Oprah picked it for her book club. Sadly, I don’t remember much about it, but your review brought back memories. Thanks for a great review.

  2. March 19, 2009 9:14 am

    Hmm…I really enjoyed your review, but I think I’m still ambivalent about seeing the movie. My hesitation comes mostly from being so incredibly disappointed by the films that are the “must-sees” in the past. I spent most of The Piano just wanting to smack Holly Hunter’s character upside the head. (Gorgeous soundtrack though) And I loathed Lost in Translation. I figured that just in case The Reader created the same reaction for me, that it might be better to watch it in video.

  3. March 19, 2009 9:14 am

    I’ve read some really harsh criticism of this book, and also some really wonderful reviews. It seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it book. I thought it was beautifully written, quiet and powerful. I found it easy to place blame at first, but the more I thought about what each of the characters experienced, the more cloudy my thoughts were. That’s not to excuse actions, but just that to understand a person’s life and how they justify their decisions brings a more complex perspective to a seemingly black-and-white situation. I felt Hanna was wrong, but as her truth unfolded, I also pitied her. And that concludes a long and rambly comment!

  4. March 19, 2009 9:20 am

    I have no idea when I’ll ever get to it, but I’m looking forward to reading this. Someday. 🙂


  5. March 19, 2009 9:23 am

    I saw this over the weekend as well. I really enjoyed it, but I know what you mean about leaving with a heavy feeling. I was also really interested to see a movie set in post-war Germany, which is not something that’s a big focus in a lot of what I read/watch.

  6. March 19, 2009 9:23 am

    I don’t know why but I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm to read the book or to see the movie. The topic is important and the issues (multiple!) that the book brings up are important. Nice review. Thanks.

  7. March 19, 2009 9:25 am

    Thanks for the review!
    You know, I’ve had this book on my shelf for years. I think I need to bump it up on my TBR list.

  8. March 19, 2009 10:27 am

    I think you bring up a great point, one that I noticed as well but phrased differently in my review. People did what they had to in order to survive – so does that mean they share in the guilt? Who knows?

  9. stacybuckeye permalink
    March 19, 2009 10:41 am

    I haven’t read the book, but I thought the movie was very good. I agree with you about understanding what happened to make some of the people during that period do unspeakable things. The movie leaves you with a heavy feeling too, but a thoughtful one.

  10. March 19, 2009 10:43 am

    Great job capturing the moral complexity of this story, Kathy. I thought this was a powerful story and it really made me think a lot.

  11. March 19, 2009 11:24 am

    Great review Kathy. I almost picked this one up the other day. I think I probably still will at one point.

  12. March 19, 2009 11:53 am

    That was a great review Kathy. I read this probably 8 years ago and at the time I didn’t think it was that great. I’m starting to think that I should maybe read it again.

  13. March 19, 2009 12:50 pm

    I enjoyed this movie as well Kathy and share your thoughts about there being more to the story. She was being judged by the same people who were also apart of the society where these atrocities were occurring. It was very difficult for me to understand how they were the ones to place blame.

    The movie emphasized for me that it’s hard not to have compassion for the ones that we love, even when they hurt us or have done cruel things. Neither blame or responsibility are always firmly in black or white.

  14. March 19, 2009 1:01 pm

    It was a very well done and thought provoking movie (I haven’t read the book). One question though…did the US version contain full frontal male nudity like the German version did? I somehow can’t imagine it.

  15. March 19, 2009 1:46 pm

    I’d never heard of The Reader before the movie became big, but now I really want to both read it and watch it.

  16. March 19, 2009 2:14 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to. The book is really challenging morally and very beautifully written. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on the film.

  17. March 19, 2009 2:58 pm

    I love fiction set around the era of World War II and issues revolving around the Holocaust. Sounds like a very sad book/movie, but very thought-provoking — I like that. I’ll be on the look out for The Reader 🙂

  18. March 19, 2009 3:10 pm

    I’ve not read the book but the movie is on my list to see. I want to see Kate Winslett’s performance for myself. I also enjoy movies that make me ponder the subject for days. I’m already thinking how sad it must be to not know how to read. I can’t imagine my life without books.

  19. March 19, 2009 3:40 pm

    I completely agree w/you. As much as I would like to see this movie, I want to read the book first. I enjoy just about anything Winslet does.

  20. March 19, 2009 3:52 pm

    I read The Reader when it first came out and wasn’t too impressed. I did feel compelled to pick it up again when the movie came out but then never did.

    I think there are a lot of themes that can be discussed here. It would be a great book for a book group, but not one that I would hold close to my heart. Know what I mean?

  21. March 19, 2009 4:52 pm

    I just requested this book from paperbackswap. I might never get to it, but I want to. I probably won’t see the movie, just because I’m not a big movie watcher.

  22. March 19, 2009 5:59 pm

    I didn’t read it or see it. I am clearly behind the times!

  23. March 19, 2009 6:00 pm

    I haven’t seen this yet and nor am I sure if I’m going to. That “heavy feeling” you talk about I got just from seeing the clips and trailers.

  24. March 19, 2009 6:51 pm

    I loved the book (reviewed it) and loved the movie (reviewed it).

  25. March 19, 2009 7:10 pm

    I think the fact that people participated in these atrocities just to get by, as you said, is part of what makes what happened so frightening. These weren’t (for the most part) evil people, and yet they were still complicit. The same holds true for the war crimes being committed currently.

    Anyway, I haven’t heard about this book or the movie until now, oddly, but it sounds like something I’d like.

  26. March 19, 2009 7:13 pm

    I’d like to read and watch the movie. Sounds great!

  27. March 19, 2009 8:20 pm

    Cleaning up a book case I have in the family room in the basement I discovered The Reader on my shelf that I never read. This book case holds my TBR pile of books I have bought over the years. I guess I should read it sometime soon eh?

  28. March 20, 2009 12:04 am

    a student lent me ‘the reader’ a few weeks ago. it was a good but bleak read. i haven’t seen the movie because i’m often disheartened by the book-to-movie translation.

    nat @ book, line, and sinker

  29. March 20, 2009 2:46 pm

    Oh, thank goodness you had an open mind about this! I’ve had a couple of heated debates about the love story aspect of the book & the film, with people saying it was pedophilia, and thus it was wrong. There has to be a gray area for everything, and I think everyone has the capacity to do evil (and good) unto others–and who are we to judge, anyway?

    I’m glad Hanna found redemption through reading. What has happened to us? Why must our worldview be so narrow?

  30. March 21, 2009 1:39 pm

    I hope to see the movie and read the book. I like what you said about many turning a blind eye and everyone being accountable. Moral complexity and thought provoking novels are right up my alley. Great food for thought.

  31. March 22, 2009 5:07 pm

    I agree with you — I thought that was the best point in the movie when they asked her WHY she did it. It was her job, she was a guard… and she would have been punished and killed had she not done her job. And I acknowledge that it in no way justifies the action, but it is certainly something to think about — the other side of the events.

  32. March 22, 2009 8:20 pm

    It’s been so long since I’ve read this one that I’m foggy on the details. All I remember is that it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Kate Winslet is such a wonderful actress–I’m sure she did an outstanding job as Hanna.

  33. March 22, 2009 8:24 pm

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this movie. I was a bit weary of the book seeing that it was an Oprah pick, but I ended up really getting into the story and I’m so looking forward to seeing the film version.

  34. March 23, 2009 1:34 am

    I have this movie, I am just waiting for the right mood to watch it.

  35. March 27, 2009 1:55 pm

    I want to see this movie badly, but I’m hoping to fit in reading the book first. We’ll see. Sounds like the story gives you a lot to think about.


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