Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

@backpackingbookworm

If I could recommend one book that everyone should read, The Storyteller would be top of that list. This gripping book left me struggling for air as I tried (and failed) to comprehend the physical and mental suffering caused during World War II.

Note: this review contains mild spoilers.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclosure: I am part of an affiliate program which means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.

Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction
Published on: 26 February 2013
Pages: 480 (paperback)
Published by: Atria

An unlikely friendship

The only thing that Sage and Josef have in common is that they attend the same grief support group. Kindling an unlikely companionship, it becomes apparent that each is dealing with their own internal struggle while also sharing different parts of the same history. When Josef confesses an unimaginable secret and asks Sage for her help, she is torn between choices.

Exploring two completely opposite perspectives, we are given an insight into the Holocaust like never before. The Storyteller will make you question every moral fibre in your body – do you punish for the unforgivable or acquit in an act of mercy?

Previous reads of a similar nature

I’m often drawn to books that are set during the Holocaust but I tend to read about the events from a detached perspective. It’s natural with real-life events that are as harrowing as the Holocaust to assimilate information this way. We accept that it happened, we acknowledge our disbelief, and we are aware of the sheer amount of suffering.

A few days later, however, my mind has usually taken a different direction and the stories settle in my brain as a distant memory.

More than just a story

That is not the case with The Storyteller. It was impossible to detach myself from the characters and story, and I felt so many conflicting emotions that I found myself thinking about the Holocaust day and night. This is the sign of a truly thought-provoking book.

Everyone should read this to keep the memory of this terrible time alive – to honour the strength that people showed in the concentration camps and to remember that one person (Hitler) telling you the way to save your country is to eliminate the problem (Jews) is not the solution. A prime example where a failing country put their faith in a person of power and cling to every word they say like sheep. I’m sure there are other examples of this going on today but that is another topic…

“Inside each of us in a monster; inside each of us is a saint. The real question is which one we nurture most, which one will smite the other.”

This book gives an incredible insight into the events of the Holocaust. The characters are authentic, the suffering is beyond tangible, and the story is heart-breaking. Though a piece of fiction, many events are based on stories from survivors and historical research. This is why it is such an essential read – this book is not fictitious, it actually happened. And it wasn’t hundreds of years ago that we can dismiss with a wave of the hand.

Which side of the fence?

The reason I love Jodi Picoult so much is the way she presents conflicting arguments with moral dilemmas. I have never read a book where my mind was physically torn. Hearing from both sides of the barbed wire fence, it was impossible to decide whether forgiveness should be granted – very much the dilemma faced by Sage throughout the book.

“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.” 

Character summaries 

On one hand, you have Josef Weber – a man who has admitted to murdering numerous people during his time as a Nazi. But the man is now 95 and wants to die. He struggles to live with the memories and believes he is being tortured with the inability to end his life. He has tried to redeem himself over the last 50 years which has led to him being loved and respected by his peers. At 95, how can you justify convicting an old, tired man who has worked hard to become a pillar of his community?

Then we hear his story. The torture, the murders, the blatant disregard of the lives of Jews. The story isn’t just hard to accept, it’s impossible to connect and associate it to 95-year-old Weber. Is it morally wrong to let this man get away with his actions just because of his age? He wants forgiveness and appears to be truly sorry, explaining he only ever did what was expected of him from his superiors. If he declined, he would be dead. Can his actions be put into perspective with this in mind?

Then we hear Sage’s grandmother’s story. As a young girl, she survived the terrible events of the Holocaust. She relives her terrifying tale with disturbing clarity. Every smell, sound, and sight was ingrained in her mind, putting us right there in the midst of the terror. The events she describes are real. Too real. There’s no sugar-coating, no exaggeration. Does this confirm that justice needed to happen in the form of convicting Weber? What would you do?

As for me… my mind is still reeling.


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