The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is about a fifteen-year-old boy who starts having a love affair with a much older woman. She suddenly disappears, only to reappear in his life when he is a law student and sitting in on her trial for war crimes during World War II.
I haven’t seen the movie yet but I did expect the book to focus on the relationship between Hanna and Michael, but really there was a lot more to it. It’s not just romance; it was law and morality and accountability. Really just very sad and not very much to be cheerful about in the whole book but well worth the read for its philosophical aspects.
It really did make me think – is it morally just to try to achieve moral justice for someone who doesn’t want it for himself/herself? Is our sense of justice coloured when it’s someone we love who is called to question? I really feel like Michael ought to have taken a different course of action from what he did (no spoilers here!) but at the same time it still seemed morally correct. The book really presented a situation of moral ambiguity for me. I don’t know that I approve of what Michael did, in terms of justice in general, and towards Hanna. But I suppose that’s what Schlink was going for.
And of course moral ambiguity and accountability and justice definitely come into play with World War II and the Holocaust. It was surprising how Schlink barely discussed the war and what happened except in terms of the trial, and yet it became evident as I kept reading that he was actually talking about it all along.