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.