Proven Wrong

A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron (American novelist), interview, Writers at Work, 1958

I finally read another novel by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Picoult, and I’ve got to admit I was a bit hard on her before.

You might recall my first Picoult novel was leaving time, a story I couldn’t resist panning last year; however, so many of you insisted I “give her another chance” that it seemed only fair.

This time, I chose The Storyteller, and I can’t remember when a book has affected me so deeply.

The Storyteller tells of Sage, a twenty-something Jewish woman who joins a grief support group following her mother’s death. She strikes up a friendship with a 90-year-old man who eventually confides a shocking secret (he was a Nazi officer during the Holocaust) and asks her to do the unthinkable (help him die).

At first, Sage is stunned. Her own grandmother, still living, is a concentration camp survivor who refuses to speak of that time in her life. Sage herself knows little of her family’s history, having renounced her religion years before.

Yet she’s troubled enough to reach out to the Department of Justice, where she connects with Leo, a Jewish attorney and hunter of Nazi war criminals. Armed with historical background, Leo meets Sage and the two convince Sage’s grandmother to dig deep into her memory and tell her story.

The Storyteller is divided into three parts, the second of which is the grandmother’s account. And reading of the atrocities that man inflicted on his fellow man, while exceedingly difficult, should be required of every human.

After all, if we don’t study history, we’re more likely to repeat it. Including the “bad” parts, which are so horrific that I shudder just thinking about them.

People were starved, beaten, stripped of dignity and humanity. They were separated from family and friends, subjected to freezing conditions, left without medical care, and shot or gassed to death, then dumped into immense pits.

I won’t tell you the ending. Let’s just say there was a twist I didn’t see coming.

Picoult wrote this one chiefly in the first person, by following — in turn — Sage, Leo, the Nazi officer, and Sage’s grandmother. She interweaves the grandmother’s fantasy tale throughout, a tale that helped her survive.

To say her writing is gorgeous would be an understatement. It’s descriptive; it flows like a babbling brook. It draws the reader in, leaving him with much to think about. And yes, I feel exhausted, like I lived several lives, now that I’ve come to The End.

26 thoughts on “Proven Wrong

  1. I’ve not heard of this author, but I’m glad for the introduction. I read almost no fiction at this point in the life, but I’m adding this to my to-be-read list. You’ve provided a great review that makes the book seem worth picking up. I’m glad it was worthwhile for you.
    Second chances are good, aren’t they?

    • I had Jewish friends when I was in high school, so the whole era of the Holocaust intrigues me. I can’t fathom losing everything — and everybody — the way some of these people did. It makes me marvel at their inner strength. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this novel, Linda, even if you’d prefer reading nonfiction. And the author at the end lists her reference sources, which might prove even more interesting for you. Second chances … yeah, it was only right!

  2. Debbie, you had me RIVETED just from reading your book review. I was glued to your every word!

    As you know, when I was still acting, I was cast in the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, therefore I am aware and was deeply affected by what went on during that time in history from all the research I did so that I could expose myself to as much as I could. I read books and watched countless documentaries. I also visited the Anne Frank House when I was in Amsterdam many years before I actually did the play.

    AWESOME review, my friend. And thanks so much for sharing it.

    I have to put this book on my MUST-READ list because I know it’s one that will touch me.

    Have a super week!

    • Thanks for nudging my memory, Ron. I’d forgotten that was one of the productions you acted in, and I just know it was memorable. I’ve seen Anne’s movie several times, and it always brings me to tears. The things those poor people had to endure, yet the hope they managed to cling to!

      I think you’ll like the book, too. Obviously, it was a work of fiction, but it was based on a compilation of stories from survivors, as well as historical references so it felt like reading nonfiction. By the time I’d waded through its 450-plus pages, I felt totally drained, almost like I’d endured the tortures, too. It makes me sad to realize something similar could still happen today, if we’re not vigilant.

      Enjoy the rest of your week, my friend!

  3. What an outstanding review, Debbie. The book seems to live up to its name, taking the four people and weaving their stories together. What a horrific time for sure. My significant other is a History Channel buff and I have learned a great deal from it…intense and sad.

  4. I am so glad you gave Picoult another chance. This was a riveting story. Great review. I just finished reading:Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty. SO SLOW at the beginning, I wanted to scream just get on with it already….and then I fell in head first. This book time to unfold. When I reached the halfway mark I couldn’t put it down. Reading is just so great when you find a book that captures you.

    • I haven’t read that one, Kb, but thanks for the heads-up. I seem to have found of late books that start amazing fast, then drag through the middle. That’s equally maddening, isn’t it? But I totally agree — finding a book you can get completely lost in is ideal. Rare, sad to say, but so satisfying!

    • I’m sooo glad to hear I’m not the only one, DD! I actually wrote her off for a full year, then decided I’d try this one. Now, if I’d learned upon reaching the end that half these characters were ghosts, I might have relinquished her to my permanent NO file, ha!

      • Haha! Good point… there’s nothing worse than a bogus ending! But she did redeem herself with that book. Some of her other novels felt manipulative. And don’t get me started on My Sister’s Keeper . . . 😉

  5. I love Jodi Picout’s books. I actually liked Leaving Time, Not for the first few pages but once I got into it. I enjoyed learning about the elephants.I haven’t read this one, but I’m intrigued.

    • I like elephants, too, but all the detail included in Leaving Time frankly bored me. I guess no writer can (or should try to) please everyone. I think you might enjoy this one, Suzi. It’s pretty hard to read, especially for sensitive creative souls, but bad stuff happened that my history classes didn’t really address fully, and I’m convinced I’m better off knowing it.

      • Her book Second Glance tackles the subject of eugenics which was well and alive here in the states in 1920s and is thought to be what inspired Hitler…scary isn’t it. This is another one that really makes you think and somewhat fearful of what the government and society is capable of. I warn you the first several pages feel like she is throwing out way too many characters but surprisingly she ties them all together. It is quite thought provoking if you can get through the first chapter. I highly recommend it even though it made me angry at a part of our American history that has been all but “erased”, kind of like much they still want to pretend didn’t happen.

    • Monica, thanks so much for your praise. I always hated writing book reviews when I was in school, and I must confess I don’t write them much even today. It encourages me when somebody says I got one right! Yes, I think you’d enjoy this novel … even the parts that are difficult to wade through are worthwhile in the end.

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