Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Publication date: January 2, 2014
Page Count: 528
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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?
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.
“History isn’t about dates and places and wars. It’s about the people who fill the spaces between them.”
The Storyteller has got to be one of the most prominent historical fictions there is out there. This is even more beautiful than The Book Thief by Markus Zusak if I dare say so myself. Because whilst The Book Thief was narrated by Death himself, The Storyteller was from a first person account of what went through (with no doubt) during World War II in German-occupied Poland.
The Storyteller is a beautiful book and woven into it are words that will take your breath away. Stories during the Holocaust that will disturb you but you just can’t take your eyes away from the pages. Each word brought life into the survivors and victims of WWII and what tragedies occurred during that period, where most of it remained silenced within each survivor’s life.
It is the tale of redemption, forgiveness, hope, bravery, mortality and family all rolled into a huge story that questions our ability to judge those who have committed heinous crimes and how and when they should be punished. The writing itself is beautiful as always. But what attracted me was how well the characters were portrayed and how real they felt despite me not having a clear understanding of WWII. We are the generation that knows about it the least other than what was taught in our history lessons in school.
But The Storyteller goes beyond that.
It describes Auschwitz, the infamous concentration/extermination camp in Poland, in such detail in its responsibility for killing over a million Jews via its gas chambers and crematoria. I felt disturbed and sick when I read of Minka’s (Sage’s grandmother) experience living there, as if I was reading an actual survivor’s accounts of her time there. I initially didn’t know the significance of the camp doctor directing prisoners who just arrived at the camp left or right until I Google-d it and found the terrifying truth….
“That’s why we read fiction, isn’t it? To remind us that whatever we suffer, we’re not the only ones?”
Picoult’s use of words and stories symbolised how important fiction is in enabling us to survive in the toughest of times. How stories can save us from the darkest pit of hopelessness and give us strength to brave the day ahead. The book starts out with a chapter from a fictional book written by Minka, which eventually becomes a vital essence of The Storyteller. Where monsters are portrayed by men and how relevant it is throughout the ages gripped my attention and made me understand Minka’s fight for survival even more. Eventually, we see how that fiction is what saves us in the end and how stories remind us of humanity, love and hope in bleak and unforgiving times.
“The only monsters I have ever known were men.”
I love how the plot was nicely done, despite not entirely enjoying the long and draggy Part 2 of the book. Otherwise, the way Picoult transitioned between the present and the past was seamless and perfect. I truly enjoyed learning more about the Holocaust in a very detailed approach, even if at times they disturbed me more often than not. But that’s the bleak side of History, no? They make you uncomfortable as proof that it did happen and people did die.
The Storyteller is a wonderful story of how genocide destroyed the humanity of mankind, and how hope salvaged it to allow the survivors to move forward. And with stories like this, I hope more people will be more willing to read about the plights and wars in Syria, Libya and Myanmar where the Muslims are facing similar events like the Jews 80 years ago.
“Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself. It’s saying, ‘You’re not important enough to have a stranglehold on me.’ It’s saying, ‘You don’t get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future.”
I do highly recommend this read if you are looking for something that will tear you to pieces and make you think about the fine line between monsters and men. It is an amazing masterpiece by Picoult and truly a wonderful historical fiction work that will live long in our hearts and mind.
Have you read this book? And what did you think about it?