26 March 2013
Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
But when she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, a quiet man old enough to be her grandfather, and respected pillar of the community, she feels that finally, she may have found someone she can open up to.
Until Josef tells her the evil secret he's kept for sixty years.
Caught between Josef's search for redemption and her shattered illusions, Sage turns to her family history and her own life for answers. As she uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between betrayal and forgiveness, love and revenge. And ask herself the most difficult question she has ever faced - can murder ever be justice? Or mercy?"
You can buy The Storyteller as a hardback or an eBook now.
The Storyteller was just an utterly amazing book, and I would agree with all of those people who say it is her best novel to date. As usual, Picoult courts a quite controversial topic as the main storyline of her book, this time choosing to write about the Holocaust. There should be no adult out there who is going to read this book who doesn't know anything about the Holocaust, so writing about something based in fact within a fictional novel was always going to be quite a challenge. It has to believable and state the facts that happen, but also include the fictional story as well. I was completely impressed by Picoult's retelling, and as a person who used to be a history buff, particularly the time of Hitler and the Nazi's, I was curious to see how much I would enjoy this book.
It tells the tale of Sage Singer, a young woman who has been damaged in her life, and now lives a very quiet and reclusive life as a talented baker for her friend's small town bakery. She still attends a grief counselling group after the loss of her mother, and makes a friend there called Josef. Josef is a pillar of the community, always helping out at school football games, and other areas of town life. But when Josef reveals a shocking and horrifying truth to Sage about his past, she's not sure if she can ever get past what he's told her - Josef was an officer in the SS and part of the Holocaust. Being part of a Jewish family, Sage struggles to deal with it and what to do, and turns to her grandmother Miska for advice. Will she be able to forgive Josef for his past?
This book is enormous, at over 500 pages it's a book you need to get into for the long haul because once you start reading it, you won't want to stop. It begins in the present day, with Sage's life and going some way to explaining why she is how she is, and the introduction of Josef. There's actually multiple narrators for the book, but this was easy to follow as they are all introduced, and have very different ways of telling their story. I enjoyed finding out about Sage, but I have to say I was excited for it to really get going and find out how Sage was going to react when Josef revealed his past to her. Of course, it didn't disappoint, and Picoult writes these scenes so brutally and honestly, you feel the same disgust and shock that Sage does, and I couldn't fathom how to deal with what he did.
As the book progresses, we meet Sage's grandmother, a Polish woman named Minka. She's haunted by her past life in Nazi Germany and what happened there, but when it comes time to tell her own tale, it is more shocking than you could ever contemplate. It's amazing how believably Picoult writes this story - everything is just horrifying to read and you cannot comprehend the fear and horror that these poor people went through, not only in the horrible concentration camps such as Auschwitz but in their homes too, working through fear and literally for their lives. Miska's narration paints a very bleak picture, and I frequently found myself in tears over the things that went on. It was uncomfortable to read in parts, but I could not stop reading, it was just compulsive and I had to see how it all ended.
Picoult's descriptions of life within the camps are very graphic and not for the feint-hearted, I imagine many will find these scenes upsetting, and it's even worse to think that people really had to live through these terrible atrocities that took place. Picoult has clearly done such deep research, and that cannot have been easy in itself, hearing people's real life stories of their own experiences. This is weaved so well with what happens with Sage and Josef within the book, and I have to say I was constantly wondering what Sage would do, it isn't obvious and I loved that about the book, it's so unpredictable. There is a bit of a shock towards the ending, along with a mysterious story that pops up throughout the book and it all draws you so far in, not wanting it to end yet at the same time wanting the horror to stop.
I honestly cannot recommend The Storyteller highly enough. It is most certainly Picoult's best novel to date, and as I've read nearly everything she's ever written, I feel well placed to be able to say that. Yes, it is a tough subject to write about and certainly a raw one to read about too, but it also gets you thinking. Not only about what Minka and the other Jewish people went through in those terrible times, but also about Sage's dilemma - should she forgive Josef for his past actions, and grant him the relief of her forgiveness? Or does someone like Josef who commited such evils deserve to die with the burden of what he did? I would like to think I could never forgive someone who committed such atrocities, but Picoult writes it so well you are left wondering what Sage is going to do. I loved every single page, and I know it's a book I will be reading again, simply because it is so, so good. Amazing. Read it now, you won't be disappointed. I wasn't.