On the face of it, it’s the story of two people and their relationship, a German schoolboy, Michael, in his mid teens and an older woman who lives around the corner, with whom he forms a passionate relationship.
During their frequent meetings at her flat, she, Hanna, often asks Michael to read to her. She seems to enjoy being read to rather than reading herself.
Then one day, just before she is about to be promoted to a more senior post at work, she disappears, leaving no note for Michael.
Some years later Michael is studying law and, as part of his studies, he attends a war crimes court, where a group of women, who were orderlies at a prisoner of war camp during the second world war, are on trial for keeping some of their prisoners locked inside a burning building. One of the women is Hanna.
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It seems that she is making a poor job of defending herself and it dawns on Michael that the reason for this, and for many other things which had puzzled him in the past, is that she can’t read or write.
It seems that she is prepared even to go to prison rather than admit to her illiteracy. Michael debates with himself whether he should intervene and exactly what is his relationship with Hanna and ultimately how Germany should deal with its Nazi past.
This novel is about how one should deal with one’s own past as well as the wider issues of the Holocaust and the complexity of war crimes in general.
It’s a compelling and very moving story. Bernhard Schlink is the writer of several novels including a series of detective stories featuring private investigator Gerhard Self.
Another good read
There’s a man living in a small caravan in the middle of a roundabout near a busy motorway service station, hence the title “The Roundabout Man” by Claire Morrall.
His name is Quinn Smith which is the same name as a famous character in a series of children’s books, “The Triplets and Quinn” rather like the ‘Famous Five’ series by Enid Blyton. What nobody has discovered is that he is the real Quinn from the books, which his mother wrote.
It’s just that he is trying to get away from all that, having been the centre of attention from fans of the books for most of his life.
When a reporter from a local paper decides to write a feature about him, it attracts unwelcome attention from some thugs who break into his caravan, beat him up and ransack the van.
His recovery takes some time, but he gets help from some of the staff at the service station café.
One of the staff who pays particular attention to him is the café supervisor: she has her own demons to deal with and life changing decisions to make. But it is Quinn, now over 60, who must confront his past, especially when he has visits from his three sisters, who have all gone their separate ways since he last saw them.
This is a book that has frequent flashbacks to various points in Quinn’s life and this can get a little confusing, especially when these are also punctuated by short excerpts from the books in “The Triplets and Quinn” series. Some Amazon reviewers have criticized the book for having a sort of ‘quick fix’ ending, but I didn’t find that myself. It wasn’t the ending I expected – and that’s often a good thing.
JKR continues her success
It’s interesting that after the success of the Harry Potter series, J K Rowling seems set to produce another series of bestsellers. The first in her crime series “ The Cuckoo’s Calling”, written under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, is nudging the top spot in paperback fiction bestsellers.
A worrying trend
Leicestershire County Council has proposed handing over 37 of its smaller libraries to local parish councils and voluntary groups, leaving just 16 of the largest libraries in the county under county council control. The Leicester Mercury reports that a petition against the move has been organized.
This is a worrying trend: I have also heard that a similar solution has been proposed for Nottinghamshire’ libraries, but no decisions have been announced.