The author whose address is that of ‘The Reader’, Bernhard Schlink has a literary career in full bloom like that of the life he depicts through his characters. Celebrating his 75th birthday, Bernhard Schlink is a German jurist and a professor in public Law and philosophy. Starting his career with detective novels, he published The Reader in 1995. Translated into 40 languages, the novel brought German literature to the rest of the world serving as an account that would give evidence about the scars that the Holocaust and war left them with.
Set in a post war Germany, The Reader kicks off as a romantic tale with love filling each frame and the soulful narration of the stories that Michael reads to Hannah. She listens to him intensely, lost in thoughts. She is illiterate but hides it from him. Hannah disappears one day without telling Michael. He is shattered, overcome by loss and longing, only to meet her eight years later at a courtroom during the war crime trials. It is revealed that the reason she is responsible for the death of hundreds of Jews is her illiteracy. She regards the public exposure of this secret she has been holding on to more heinous than the crime she committed.
Schlink chooses Hannah and her secret to personify the German guilt. Her illiteracy, as a metaphor for the crimes committed by the Nazis. It was probably ignorance that they were trying to cover up with their dreadful actions against the Jews. The Reader is a novel of binaries. Hannah is seen helping a retching young man (Michael), which marks the beginning of their meeting and relationship. There is humanity that catches hold of vulnerability of a fellow human being giving him hope. Even when love is in the air, there is an aura of indifference. The difference in their ages is a symbolic representation of the past and present of Germany. It represents a generation which grew up in the shadow of their parents’ crime. Moving to the courtroom there is a faceoff between justice and responsibility, ethics and duty.
Translated to over 50 languages and adapted to an award-winning movie, The Reader conquered the literary world. Bernhard Schlink, like his novels has works that handles the extremes. The Weekend that talks about Germany’s homegrown terrorists and Flights of Love, The Woman on the Stairs about love. The other works includes Olga, Homecoming ,and Summer Lies.