This is one of my all time favorites! I read it when I was beginning High School. This is a story of self discovery after a young german boy finds himself tangled up in an affair with a much older woman.
Michael Berg is a fifteen year old boy in West Germany, 1958. On his way home, he finds himself ill and a 36 year old tram conductor, Hanna Schmitz helps him get cleaned up and sees that he gets home safely. After realizing he has hepatitis, he takes of 3 months of school on where he had no contact with her.
After he recovers, he shows up at Hanna’s door with flowers in order to thank her. Later on, he finds himself peaking through a door watching her change and when she realizes what’s going on, he runs away. Only returning back after a few days, she asks him to help her with coal that gets him all dirty. She decides to watch him bathe and seduces him. This is where their affair begins.
They developed a dynamic in which they have sex but Michael also reads to her. Obviously, as time passes he starts to spend less time with her and more with his friend, in some way neglecting their time together until suddenly she disappears.
Years later, he’s a researcher assistant in law school and stumbles upon a case in which a jewish survivor is presenting charges against a Nazi female wardens. Guess who was one of the wardens?
At this point, Michael is shocked and appalled to have a past with a person who supposedly let jewish women burn alive in a church after a bombing. They accused her of writing the account on this precise fire. After continuous research and analysis, Michael gets to the conclusion that Hanna was illiterate and so she could save her embarrassment, she confessed to all the charges, despite not being able to read or write. I guess since he was hurt after her sudden disappearance, he did not come clean of his findings. Also, he was a minor at that time and that could prejudice her sentence a lot more.
Years pass and Michael is divorced with a daughter, Julia. Since Michael knew the truth, he decided to record himself reading books and sent the tapes to Hanna. This actually helps her learn to write and she wrote him back constantly. He did not reply, he just kept sending tapes. After 18 years of prison time, Hanna was going to be released. Michael had found her a place to stay and a job. However, she committed suicide on the day of her release and left instructions to Michael to donate ser savings to the surviving victim of the fire.
I remember this being a heavy book to read given Germany’s state after the war. However, it gives you an insight on what happened regarding the law, after the Holocaust. During the time I read it, I wanted to become a lawyer so it was all super interesting regarding history and law studies. When I went to college I was a law student at first, but after a year I noticed it was not my thing and changed my major to business management.
This is a book I heavily recommend and the movie got Kate Winslet an Oscar for her role as Hanna Schmitz!