By Jodi Picoult.
5/5 and then some!
From the back cover:
“For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight. He is a pillar of his local community. He is also a murderer.
When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed.
As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love – and revenge.”
A Short Synopsis:
Sage Singer is an introverted and shy young woman, with a heart full of guilt following a car accident, three years previously, which led to her mother’s death and also left Sage with a scar on the side of her face. A scar which she tries her best to hide; Sage hides away from almost everyone, even choosing a profession where she can work alone and also at night. Sage is a baker, a wonderful baker.
At the local grief support group, Sage meets the elderly Josef Weber, who she recognises as the lonely patron of the café where she works. They form an unlikely friendship; scarred recluse and lonely nonagenarian. That is until Josef asks Sage to help him to die, once she has heard his confession; he was a member of the Hitler Youth and then a Nazi SS soldier who worked at Auschwitz. Although Sage is an Atheist, she is from a Jewish family and had a Jewish upbringing; Josef’s confession makes her angrier than she thought possible. She reports him to Leo, an FBI agent who investigates possible cases against war-criminals, however old they may be.
What unfolds, during Leo and Sage’s investigation, are two interlinking stories of the horrors of war, love and survival. Josef Weber, better known then as Reiner Hartmann, was the SS-Schutzhaftlagerfhrer at Auschwitz and Minka, Sage’s Jewish grandmother grew up during the War. Minka’s recount of her experiences as a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, her time in the Ghetto and later at Auschwitz are truly harrowing, yet inspiring; she found the strength to go on day-by-day, never giving up hope, and survived the War. One of her main survival strategies was the fact that she could speak German and was a great writer, through her story of Ania and Aleks, the upior (vampire), she instilled a little brightness into the days of other victims at Auschwitz and also formed an unlikely bond with Franz Hartmann, Josef’s brother. Franz had her work as his secretary and had Minka write the rest of her story for him; the conflict between whether someone evil can ever again be considered good hooked Franz as he struggles with his own guilt at his part in the War.
I do not normally read stories about the Holocaust and such horrific events as I find them too upsetting, the first-hand experiences told in ‘The Storyteller’ are heart-breaking but they are also strengthening; they show what people can, and have, overcome.
As Sage struggles with her conflicting thoughts over whether or not Josef, the kind and upstanding member of the community, is still the same person as Reiner, the heartless murderer, you begin to question whether there are any actions that can counterbalance such evil acts. Picoult handles this conflict with such tact and grace that you do not for a moment feel as though she is trying to create a rose-tinted picture of such tragic events. She is brutally honest with what the Jewish people suffered at the hands of the Nazis but she also finds beauty within these dark places. With characters such as Minka’s boss in the ghetto and The Elder, the Jewish man who runs the Ghetto, sacrificing the welfare of his own people for his own safety, you see that not all Germans were evil just as not all Jewish people were good. This unbiased representation is what make’s Picoult’s novel so gripping; you see both sides of the story.
Minka’s story about Ania and Aleks show that although the world can be an awfully cruel place, there is still love and hope. One of the passages that remains most embedded in my mind is when Minka sees a woman in a wedding dress arriving at Auschwitz, she describes the joy that she felt at knowing that however many Jews were being killed at the concentration camps, that there were still others out there falling in love and dreaming of a future. The theme of baking runs throughout the novel, Sage finds peace in baking it is her therapy, Minka’s father ran a bakery and had a special pastry that he would bake just for her, Ania runs her father’s bakery after he is killed by the upior. To me, food is love in this story; it’s nourishing, fulfilling and gives you the strength to believe in tomorrow.
Picoult is a wonderful craftsman with words, her prose flows so effortlessly whilst still remaining true to the heart of the story. You know that she spent time and effort researching her subject matter before composing the novel and that pays off. The end result is a beautifully written story, with sincere accounts of the events of the Holocaust balanced with light humour and characters that you find yourself rooting for. An inspiring and inspired read.
No review that I write can do this book the justice that it deserves, all I can say is ‘Read it’, and you will not be disappointed.
I would recommend this book to fans of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne and Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally.