Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton [Hachette India]
Pages: 480 
Price: Rs 695
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction 
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

Sage Singer has a past that makes her want to hide from the world. Sleeping by day and working in a bakery by night, she kneads her emotion into the beautiful bread she bakes.

But when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, a quiet man old enough to be her grandfather, and respected pillar of the community, she feels that finally, she may have found someone she can open up to.

Until Josef tells her the evil secret he's kept for sixty years.

Caught between Josef's search for redemption and her shattered illusions, Sage turns to her family history and her own life for answers. As she uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between betrayal and forgiveness, love and revenge. And ask herself the most difficult question she has ever faced - can murder ever be justice? Or mercy?

My thoughts:

To begin with, it is a big book, which deals with the subject of forgiveness woven around the Holocaust. Though I have only read [and loved] ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult, yet I feel with this book she has attempted a major feat. Writing historical fiction cannot be easy. There are many things to consider – the factual correctness, the characterizations, the story graph, keeping the readers glued; in no way it could be a small feat.

On the face of it, Sage is the main protagonist of this book. A recluse by nature, she is drawn inside her shell by the ghosts of her past. A baking job ensures she works through nights. In her self-pity mode, she is also involved with a married man because she feels she does not deserve better, and this could be her only chance at love. Sage is part of a group therapy class, where she befriends a nonagenarian Josef Weber. A respected figure of town, Sage feels that in Josef she has found a friend who understands her.

But things take a surprising turn when all Josef confides in her about his role in the Holocaust and asks her to help him end his life. Since Sage is a Jew, Josef believes that it will be his redemption from the several crimes he committed during Holocaust as a Nazi SS guard.

Sage also has a paternal grandmother Minka who is a Holocaust survivor. Minka’s story, in fact, is the central part of this book. While Josef gives an account of his role in the Holocaust [perpetrator’s perspective], Minka’s story offers a victim’s experience through those terrible times. This book delves into the psyche of the perpetrator; what made them do what they did, how so many men went about systematically killing fellowmen. The nature of crime is so inhuman that sometimes it feels that it really never happened, but there are survivors to tell the disturbing stories of those horrifying times. Minka’s story will unsettle you, even move you to tears for the sheer helplessness of the situation.

Once you read Minka’s story, Sage’s character feels frivolous. I felt Sage was too caught up in self-pity. Sage eventually finds love in Leo, the Deputy Chief of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions, who she teams up with to bring Josef Weber to book; but that looks very convenient for a happy ending.

There is a third story that runs almost parallely with Sage’s and Minka’s stories. It is an allegorical story created by Minka - of Ania, her baker father and a monster [a bloodsucking upiory] - which in a way is a reflection of her own life.

There are portions which may drag for a bit but trust me, your patience will pay off. It took me a couple of pages to warm up to the story, [and though I am not 100% happy with the ending] yet the book was certainly worth reading. I will recommend it to others too.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

“That’s the paradox of loss: How can something that’s gone weigh us down so much?”

“He listened so carefully that it made me forget that outside there were guards abusing prisoners and people being gassed to death and men pulling their bodies from the shower rooms to stack like wood in the crematoria. When I was reading my own work, I got lost in the story, and I could have been anywhere….”

“Sometimes all it takes to become human again is someone who can see you that way, no matter how you present on the surface.”

“If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn’t, you will never understand.”

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: GoodReads

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