Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Format: paperback ARC supplied by the publisher
In The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult has written a complex story about right and wrong, redemption and forgiveness.
Sage Singer has been traumatised by an accident in her past that killed her mother and left her scarred for life – both physically and mentally. She has hidden herself away from the public eye by taking a job as a baker where she can work alone at night. In a macabre twist, she has also become involved in a secret affair with the local funeral director, Adam, who happens to be married. Sage attends a local grief counselling session and it is there that she meets Josef Weber, a ninety year-old local hero known throughout town as a school German teacher and as a baseball coach.
What happens next shocks Sage…Josef asks Sage to help him die. Although old, Josef is otherwise healthy with seemingly no reason to die. It turns out that Josef is actually Reiner Hartmann, an ex SS officer of the German Reich. In this position, Reiner committed some horrendous acts on humanity, and now wants to be forgiven. Sage is not sure she can do that, mostly because her grandmother, Minka is a holocaust survivor.
The second section of the novel is dedicated to Minka’s story. She was a Polish Jew living in the ghetto in Lodz and was eventually transferred to Aushwitz and eventually to Bergen Belson. Although her story is horrific and sad, it’s nothing new. I recently read Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Kenneally which is virtually the same story. What Picoult does do is present the story from the survivors’ point of view, as well as deal with the subject of forgiveness/redemption. Sage feels that she can’t forgive Josef because it’s not her place – only Minka can do that.
Interwoven amongst Minka’s story is the fictional tale she is writing at the time. It is a paranormal story about an upior – a monster that is half dead and likes to drain the blood of its victims. During her time in Aushwitz, Minka begins working for Hauptscharfuhrer Hartmann (Reiner’s brother )as a secretary. She reads her story to him and he tells her of a different kind of monster, the Donestre, “a monster with remorse”. The similarities between the Donestre and the Hauptscharfuhrer are obvious.
Sage is unsure what to do about Josef so she enlists the help of the FBI – specifically Leo Stein of the Justice department. Together they gather the evidence against Josef/Reiner – even getting a positive ID from Minka.
Of course there is a huge twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, although I probably should have. This is the third Picoult novel I have read, the others being My sister’s Keeper, and Between the Lines, which she co-wrote with her daughter. Both The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper have at their heart a moral dilemma which provides much food for thought. Jodi Picoult has been criticised by some for writing novels that are too formulaic, and while agree that My Sister’s Keeper could fall into that category, I don’t feel that could be said about The Storyteller. I found The Storyteller a far superior novel . It is a compelling read – part mystery, part history, part fantasy, with a little dose of romance thrown in for good measure.