A Bit More About Der Vorleser
I saw the movie, The Reader, in one of the last days of 2008.
It seemed to me a bit spoiled. The same director (Stephen Daldry) who had made The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham's novel. That movie was well made (inferior to the book, though).
Here, in The Reader, something was kind of missing. Hardly to say what.
Two extraordinary actors. Kate Winslet as Hanna: she found the perfect key for such a difficult role. It is an extraordinary achievement to render the same personage, behaving each time the same, each time on a totally different plan.
Each plan is made perfectly credible by Kate Winslet, while she remains always the same Hanna.
Then the kid, the fifteen years old boy. A young German actor (David Kross), who played superbly his erotic awakening, a male who's more and more proud and sure of himself, while remaining actually a kid. Just amazing, how this young actor could maintain the duo with Kate Winslet without being overwhelmed by her.
Ralph Fiennes did not convince me, to be honest. Maybe I'm wrong, I would understand his creation better at a second watch.
Immediately I started to look for the book, Der Vorleser, by Bernhard Schlink. I found it the same evening and I didn't leave it from hands up to the last page. I read it again, after that: as I didn't want to leave the story from myself.
What makes it so impressive, this novel? It's presented as largely autobiographic, and it is really written with passion, as the author wanted to get finally free of his obsessions. Of course, it is impossible to get the real autobiographical elements, and, after all, once a book is written it becomes a fiction: it is about its own universe, different from the universe of the author.
What is this book about? Is it mainly about Hanna, the woman who had become an SS criminal because she was trying to cover her illiteracy?
Well, no. It is mainly about him, about The Reader, Der Vorleser (the German language is here more exact: The One Who Reads Aloud, more precisely The One Who Reads Aloud To Be Listened). He is the main character, the book is about his reactions toward Hanna. It is about him discovering through Hanna his erotic awakening, then about him discovering the secret of Hanna (her illiteracy), and so, through Hanna, discovering the banality of evil.
Let's make here a short break: it is a book about the problematic of the Holocaust; what makes it original is maybe not the fact that Hanna is not a victim but a perpetrator; what makes it a great book is that it speaks forcefully about the banality of evil. Hanna did not commit her crimes because she was hating Jews, or because she was believing in any of Nazi ideas; she was simply trying to cover her illiteracy and any other aspect was unimportant for her. As simple as that!
But this is not the only greatness. There is another one, overwhelming: his coming to terms with Hanna.
You see, a complex of love/hate/guilt is crossing the whole story, from the beginning to the end. He loves Hanna, he hates her, as he is horrified by the evil. So love/hate, while the guilt, I mean his guilt, is ever present. At the beginning an unclear Freudian complex, at the trial the guilt that he loves a criminal, in the end the guilt that he cannot stand firmly on her side!
The solution the hero finds in himself, to read aloud book after book and to send the cassettes to the prison, to be listened there by Hanna, this is really overwhelming: someone could be a horrible criminal, but she or he remains a human being and keeps always the right for human dignity. Someone could be a horrible criminal but she or he remains a human being, and a human being is fragile; so she or he always needs someone else to protect this fragility.
(A Life in Books)