The Reader is a novel that was originally written in German in 1995 by author and law professor Bernard Schlink. In 1996 it was translated into English and published worldwide, becoming an instant best-seller. The novel was controversial as it deals with a time in German history that the majority of the German people would very much like to forget. Like his protagonist, Michael Berg, Schlink was born in 1944 and grew up trying to come to terms with the fact that his parents, and those of their generation, turned a blind eye to the genocide that was going on in their own neighborhood, and pretending that they had no knowledge of what was really going on in prison camps such as Auschwitz. Also like Michael Berg, Schlink studied law in college and spent some considerable time attending the trials of accused Nazi war criminals.
The book addresses the central issue of the crimes committed during the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler by Hanna Schmidt, a woman who was responsible for many deaths whilst a guard at Auschwitz. However, it also shows Hanna as a person with many facets, and also addresses the issue of illiteracy, which is asserts gave Hanna so few options in her life that becoming a prison guard was her only way forward. The book also studies the pathway to redemption and forgiveness and shows how the nation of Germany was anxious to move on from a time that they would like to put behind them, and shows why this should never be possible, despite the fact that many of the higher-ranking SS officers went on to fill posts in the judiciary and in government after the war.
The Reader was made into a movie starring Kate Winslett and Ralph Fiennes. Schlink followed up this novel with another coming-of-age story with a young male character at the fore who, like Michael Berg, is also based loosely on himself as an adolescent.