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The Storyteller Jodi Picoult Click here to download The Storyteller Jodi Picoult Jodi Picoult likes to take on big topics — school shootings, autism, gay rights, complicated medical controversies — and wrap them in big, page-turning works of fiction. It's an often enjoyable formula that has produced a consistent run of best sellers. Now she has taken on perhaps the biggest topic of them all — the Holocaust — in a big mess of a novel that veers wildly between thought-provoking and cringe-inducing. Picoult sticks with her standard format in The Storyteller, largely to her own detriment. Multiple narrators? Check. Damaged but sympathetic heroine? Check. Unlikely couple destined to get together? Check. Gigantic secret (or secrets) unveiled in final pages? Check. The damaged but sympathetic (actually, mostly annoying) heroine here is Sage Singer, a 25-year-old baker in Westerbrook, N.H., who has a nasty facial scar from some kind of accident and whose boyfriend, the local funeral director, is a married man. At a grief group (her mother has died and she feels guilt, but we don't know why), she meets Josef Weber, a 95-year-old widower and former schoolteacher. They become fast friends, and Josef asks Sage to help him die. Why? Because he deserves to die, and she is Jewish. You see, he tells her, he was once an SS officer who killed thousands of Jews, and now he wants to atone for his sins. Sage, who is an introvert but no pushover, calls the Department of Justice, and before long young "Nazi hunter" Leo Stein arrives in New Hampshire to try to determine whether Weber is really who he says he is, one Reiner Hartmann, once head of the women's camp at Auschwitz. (He could just be a poser who watches The History Channel "24/7," Leo cautions Sage.) Leo persuades Sage's grandmother Minka, a Holocaust survivor who was in Auschwitz, to recount her story; perhaps her testimony can indict Josef/Reiner. Minka's riveting, moving tale of survival — first in the Polish ghetto of Lodz, then in the camps — is the heartbreaking soul of Picoult's novel. If only the other 300+ pages were as wonderful as these. Instead, the tone of The Storyteller is all over the map. One minute we're reading cheery tips about baking bread; the next we're made queasy by Josef's confessions of unspeakable Nazi atrocities. And wondering if he made them up, which puts the reader in a strangely uncomfortable position. Then there's the bizarre knockoff Twilight fan fiction (with a hunky Polish vampire!) sprinkled throughout the book — which turns out to have been written by the young Minka as a kind of Holocaust parable. Oh, yeah, we're also supposed to worry about whether unhappy Sage, a non-practicing Jew and an atheist, will realize that nice synagogue-attending Leo Stein is the right guy for her. At its best moments, The Storyteller thoughtfully, even powerfully, grapples with complex moral questions. But too much of this novel just seems forced and frivolous, leaving an unpleasant aftertaste — like

a gooey pastry you know is bad for you but just keep eating. Click here to download The Storyteller Jodi Picoult

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