Monday, April 19, 2010

Der Vorleser

[ The Reader ]


Living abroad, everyday there are new experiences, new challenges and new landmark events. I can now proudly say that I have read a chapter book in German, something that I couldn’t have even attempted just months ago still conjugated verbs in my head hesitating to speak. I have been reading new articles and small, short stories all year, but this felt like something more, and the many hours with a dictionary at my side [ for a short 200 pg book that might be a one-weekender book for a German] felt like an accomplishment.

The book wasn’t just anything however, since it was a recommendation to me from Inge and actually was a very unique look into German literature and history. Der Vorleser – known in English as “The Reader” – is about a young man that has a one summer affair with an older German train stewardess. As the story continues, she disappears from the city without any note or forewarning, and the heartbroken boy is left hurt and confused.

Several years later, as he is a student of law and currently studying the cases in Germany persecuting the organizers of concentration camps, the paths of these former lovers cross again. Without sparing too many details, the story observes the setting of 1960’s Germany, a complete generation now grown up disconnected from the tragedies and terrible events of WWII. This generation gap emphasizes the confusion and conflict that came about as one generation tries to conceptualize the horrors their parents and grandparents created – the beginning of understanding the new German identity and conceptualizing the future and the past of Germany at the same time.

As a nice gift, Elke, the mother of Hans, gave me the DVD of the movie that was an Oscar nominated film from 2008 starring Kate Winslet in her Lead Actress winning role. The film was a little different than the book, but the underlying message was the same, and offers many topics to think about once the credits begin to role.

Inge held to her opinion that the film was about apologies, and how could any apology begin to cover the events that were the holocaust. I saw a generational gap that caused hatred and distrust grow between different age groups and how different empathies can be created when a personality is observed from a character easily deemed evil from face value.


Other critiques of the book and film condemn it for empathizing with post-war Nazis, making the inference that self-proclaimed innocent people followed along with the terrible acts of the holocaust because they had to.

The book is well written and is recommended for any student of the German language. I have yet to watch the film in its original English language [ only with German dub ] but the film, controversy aside, is a intimate look into a largely forgotten era of German history. After all, in most history books, between WWII and the divide of Germany to the fall of the wall 40 years later, there is an entire era and generational argument that I feel has gone largely unnoticed for its great impact on shaping the modern Germany of today.