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Overview Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.
What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?
Reviews Jodi Picoult has tackled yet another ‘big issue’ (forgiveness) in The Storyteller, but as in all her books things are a little more complicated than usual, and there’s her wow-didn’t-see-that-coming twist as well. Sage Singer is a loner. She works as a baker through the night, only befriending a few people, hardly ever talking to the customers, always staying behind the scenes in the store where she works. She has terrible scars on her face from a frightful accident, something she’s struggling to cope with – psychologically as well as physically – every day of her life. But it doesn’t stop her baking. Throughout the book I could almost smell Sage’s breads, the beautiful breads taught to her by her Jewish grandmother – and desperately wanted to taste them. Over time an unlikely friendship grows between her and an elderly customer in the store – Joseph Weber. And then, in a completely unexpected moment, Joseph asks Sage to kill him. He can’t live with the memories of what he’s done in the past... and tells her why he deserves to die. His story – and Sage’s grandmother’s story, a survivor of Auschwitz – are confronting and shocking.
You might think that this is ‘just’ another book about the Holocaust, but it isn’t. It is a privilege to read it; an honour to remember those whose lives were abruptly terminated in such terrible circumstances. We must not forget them, and we must learn from the mistakes of history, even if this means we metaphorically ‘gird our loins’ to read on, saddened and horrified and, yes, sickened at times. So is it worth the angst, the reader pain? Yes it is. Of course it is.
Woven through Jodi Picoult’s book is a fable, as it were, of fiction imitating life – or is it life imitating fiction? It’s told by Sage’s grandmother, and the ending is both confronting and unusual. It adds to the richness of the book, and it weaves the story of her grandmother and Joseph Weber together.
This is not an easy book to read, simply from the subject matter. And yet Jodi Picoult’s arresting and easy style of writing means the book will keep you riveted
and make you think in the end.... I wonder what I would have done? Thank you Jodi Picoult, for making me think. And remember. How do you forgive someone who has committed a horrendous crime? A war crime against a family member and a war crime against a race? Can you really forgive someone if you are not the actual party who was wronged? Is forgiveness yours to give?
The Storyteller is a riveting tale of Sage Singer; a baker that works nights to avoid contact with the outside world, a young woman that has been attending a grief counseling group since the death of her mother 3 years prior. Here she meets an elder man, Josef Weber some 95 years of age, a retired beloved teacher. As their friendship develops Josef ask Sage for her help, he wants her to help him die or in Sage’s mind to kill him. Sage refuses until the Josef darkest secrets are exposed – he once was Nazi guard, stationed at Auschwitz. To make matters worse – Sage’s living Grandmother is a survivor of Auschwitz and Josef wishes for forgiveness from Sage. As Sage considers this request will this be murder or justice?
A good portion of this book is told by Sage’s Grandmother, Minka. Of her time in Poland, of her time in the Ghetto where Jewish people were forced to live in and finally her time Auschwitz where she watched her mother, father and finally her best friend killed. It is heart breaking and at times very difficult to read. How does one understand how a race can treat another race this way?
Extraordinary book that should not be missed! Jodi I wish I could give you 10 stars for this book. Jodi Picoult has a talent for talking about harrowing experiences – from child abuse to suicide pacts, murder to school shootings – and forcing the reader into the minds of everybody involved. But how is it possible to do this with the Holocaust? As it turns out, very well indeed.
The Storyteller begins with Sage Singer, a young woman dealing – badly – with the loss of her mother in a car crash a few years prior. Sage attends a group created for people dealing with grief and it is there she meets Josef Weber, a quiet old man who, out of the blue, asks Sage to help him die. Why? Because, back in the 1940s, he worked in a concentration camp as a Nazi SS guard.
It is quite astonishing to me that the Holocaust was only 80 years ago; it's really not ancient history. In the last year I've read books that that were published a long time before, but still felt fresh to me. Jodi Picoult almost abandons her trademark style of writing in The Storyteller (you will not find a court case here!) and instead tells a story within a story within a story, which worked remarkably. We're introduced to characters – and their point of view – throughout the story. I became immersed, not confused, as each story progressed and as each piece of the puzzle (because there's always a puzzle!) came together. The Storyteller also respectfully addresses the complicated matter of forgiveness and who really benefits from it.
While reading The Storyteller, I did not discover anything about the Holocaust that I did not already know – it is not meant to serve as a history lesson – but it's the first time I've gotten close to thinking about what it would be like to experience Nazi cruelty first-hand. And it was the first time I thought about what Nazis themselves saw, felt and believed. It is brilliantly told and wonderfully wraps together, while still doing justice to its characters – and the real people who suffered. It's a revealing yet unforgiving story, moving between present life as Sage struggles with what Josef has asked her to do, and Minka's torturous story of life as a young Jewish girl under the Nazi regime. There are so many stories going on in this book, I don't know how Picoult kept the thread going but she did. It is only confusing if the reader is reading an ARC on an electronic device as the differentiation is difficult to ascertain.
The central part of the story is about Sage, a 25 year old recluse with a few (probable) minor scars on her face but deep scars on her emotional being. She carries the guilt and weight of her mistakes and, unknowingly, the weight of her ancestry. In a grief group she meets a very old man who has been a pillar of society. He is German and he befriends Sage and she him. He confides in her that he wants her help to die. He feels like he has suffered from his conscience and needs to be released. Nothing seems to kill him. Sage is horrified by his request so he adds some unsavory detail. He worked as an SS officer during WWII. Worse, he was in Auschwitz, the death camp. Sage contacts a government agency to figure out what to do. As an added part to the story, Sage is having an affair with a married man who is one she can never have. Because deep down she believes she is not worthy.
Eventually the reader discovers that Sage's grandmother is an Auschwitz survivor. She doesn't want to share her story. She wants it to die with her. Upon prodding, she does share and it is grueling and inhumane. Then there is a caveat
that the reader might see coming. She has crossed paths with a particularly brutal SS officer.
The old man, in an effort to convince Sage he needs help to die, paints himself as a brutal SS officer. As you might guess, he admits to being one from Auschwitz that Minka knew of. Although this would seem to be a central part of the story, it really isn't. Sage battles with forgiveness for herself and for the man she knows as a monster according to his stories and her grandmother's. It is his lack of remorse that is compelling to me.
This is where Picoult really shines. The book is threaded throughout with a fairy tale that Minka pens that juxtaposes the experiences of Minka. The fairy tale is compelling to all who hear and read it which saves her from death in Auschwitz for the moment. The story is about two brothers who are both infected with the same condition. They are undead and feast upon the blood and gore of their victims. One has mastered self-control for the most part. The other has not. The question Minka and the others struggle over is good and evil. Can a person only be one?
I am reminded of the first time I saw Schindler's List and was struck by how unheroic Oskar Schindler was. He needed workers and chose to use Jews from a concentration camp. He didn't do it because he wanted to save them, at least not in the beginning. He simply used them and saw them as his society had taught him to see them - subhuman. It was through interaction with them that he grew to care about them. Although the movie ended with Schindler clearly being one of the "good" guys, this story is not as clear. Good people do bad things. Sometimes they do it for a higher purpose and sometimes they are simply misguided.
There are so many parts to this book I would love to divulge but they would probably end up being spoilers. In fact, I know they would. They would lead me to divulge more and more until I gave too much of the story away.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I have a new admiration for Picoult and her ability to 1) use the English language. I loved the words she used although I tired of the word "tome." My issue, not hers. 2) The story is multilayered yet interconnected. What seemingly doesn't connect, eventually fits completely.
Wow. For me, a sign of a really great book is one you can remember the characters days, months and even years later. This book was riveting while going from the present and spending a good part of the book back in the 1940s from the point of view of a Holocaust survivor. No matter how horrifying this was, I couldn't stop reading. It may be one of the big reasons I can't get this book out of my mind or it may be the O M G twist at the end. I admit I was as blindsides as I was with My Sister's Keeper. This book is definitely a must read!
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