The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult
For the past few months every time I went into any Waterstones store I would see The Storyteller on one of their stands at the front of the shop like a beacon beckoning me to buy it. Every time I would pick the book up, read the blurb and then put it down and think, ‘maybe next time’. This is something I bitterly regret as I wish I could have read this sublime and beautiful book sooner.
So how did I end up with a copy in my hand? Well, I bought it at work in a charity book sale and thought the 500 odd page book would keep me entertained on holiday whilst lying on the beach attempting to add to my collection of freckles, I mean ‘tan’.
I started reading the book on my last day of the holiday, a good move in my opinion as I don’t think I would have been able to do anything else on the holiday other than read it as I was obsessed from the off. I couldn’t put it down on the beach, I couldn’t stop reading it on the plane home and I didn’t even have time for tears as I bid by parents farewell on the train back to London – I was absorbed by it.
But enough of the teasing…
For some bizarre reason (even though I read the blurb) the cover made me think the book would be a bit Nicholas Sparks-esque, let me tell you, this assumption could not be further away from the truth.
We are introduced to a broken twenty something year old girl; Sage, who is reeling from her mother’s death and its consequences she has to physically bare every day. An almost Frankenstein like illusion, Sage works at night in a bakery and hides away from the world during the day. That is until she meets Josef, a ninety year old German man with whom she strikes an unlikely close friendship. But this union takes a dire turn when Josef asks Sage to help him die. And that’s not the most shocking aspect of their bizarre relationship, Sage unearths evidence that the elderly gentleman is a former Nazi who worked at Auschwitz.
Sage talks to the police about her concerns who seem to think she is mad. She then goes to even greater lengths and involves the FBI – Leo, proves a great source of comfort to her as he helps Sage gather the evidence she needs to prove that her friend is a former Nazi.
The book is told from many different perspectives and its Minka’s story which captivated me the most. Sage’s grandmother – a Polish Jew – tells her account of WWII and Auschwitz to Leo and Sage who realise that Minka knew Josef as a monster. Minka’s tale was the most compelling piece of writing I have read in years, her experiences are still etched into my brain now. From witnessing her sister unintentionally suffocate her own child, to seeing her best friend being shot, to being beaten savagely by the Nazis, Minka’s story is all the more harrowing knowing that this actually happened to real life human beings. (Picoult drew on her interviews with WWII survivors for inspiration for Minka’s story).
I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read the book, but it’s so hard not to as I could talk about it all day. At the heart of the book is forgiveness; should you forgive someone of crimes that happened seventy years ago? I was in two minds, obviously no one can deny that what Josef did as a Nazi was wrong however some may argue he had no choice but to commit these crimes as a duty to Hitler, others may argue that he has had to live with the consequences of his actions every single day of his life and that is punishment enough. His character was one of juxtaposition, in the present he appeared a frail old man but in Minka’s tale he was a barbarian.
Whilst Sage wants to seek justice by condemning him for his crimes and for the torture he put her grandmother through, she struggles with her decision on whether to help Josef die. Why should he have a humble death and decide when to die when he never gave his victims this opportunity? Sage makes her own decision but ultimately Picoult has left the reader to make up their own mind.
The Storyteller is a masterpiece, beautifully written and considerate towards its tricky subject matter yet it’s a no holds barred account of a Jew’s time in Auscwitz. I could honestly pick this book up now and read it all over again. Stunning.