Friday, April 3, 2009

What is Moral Responsibility?

I read The Reader by German author Bernhard Schlink while I was in Mexico during Spring Break. It's not exactly a vacation read, but I enjoyed it all the same. It's a very different sort of book from what I've been reading lately, which have mostly been mysteries and thrillers (love those!). Since Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role as Hannah Schmitz in the movie version of The Reader, though, I thought that this novel translated from the German was worth a look. It's the story of Michael Berg, a teenage boy in the years following World War II, who begins an affair with an older woman (Hannah Schmitz, the Kate Winslet role). The affair is very erotic and exciting, but soon begins to have a dark side when Hannah avoids questions about her past and shows some troubling sides to her personality. And then, one day, she is gone. Michael does not see her again for years, after he has been married, had a child, and then divorced. The circumstances in which he sees Hannah again force Michael himself as well as the reader to ask certain moral questions about the nature of responsibility, guilt, redemption and forgiveness. These questions are not easy to answer, particularly when dealing with a subject like the Holocaust, which is the time period after which The Reader takes place. I liked this book and felt that it was an important read because it filled a gap in my own consciousness and provided food for my own thought and personal moral development. It's not a technically difficult book to read, as it is fairly slim and straightforward, but the themes are certainly sophisticated and require a patient, thoughtful mind. 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas.

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