Today I finished reading “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult. Ms. Picoult always tackles difficult subjects to leave us wondering “What Would You Do?” This is the 5th book BC has read of Picoult’s. In each of those the author certainly knows how to tug at our heartstrings, and leaves us find empathy for her characters.
The Storyteller has four stories that develop with in 460 pages.
1. Sage is a brilliant baker who works at night, living a limited lonely life in a small town. She keeps a scar on her face hidden, (left from a car accident that killed her mother), is involved in a hopeless romantic affair, and is drawn to Josef, a beloved neighborhood old timer who frequents the bakery.
2. Minka (Sage’s Grandmother) grows up in Lodz and is forced into the ghetto with her family. Eventually she is sent on a transport to Auschwitz and we closely follow the impossible hardships she endures and ultimately survives.
3. Franz and Reiner are two German brothers different as can be; one a serious sensitive student, the other a fighter; both end up in the SS.
4. Throughout the book, we read Minka’s Novel, chapters of a dark Gothic romance about a baker’s daughter and two demon brothers who terrorize a village. She never finishes the story…..Are they Vampires?
The Plot begins:
Twenty-five year old Sage Singer meets ninety-five year old Josef Weber in the New Hampshire-based grief-counseling group she’s been attending since her mother’s death three years ago. After quickly forming a friendship, he teaches her to play chess and he eventually asks Sage to help him die!
WHY??? Because during World War II, he was an SS (Schultz-Staffel) guard and can no longer live with the guilt of all the people he killed. Instead of granting his request, Sage goes behind Josef’s back and straight to Human Rights and Special Prosecution Attorney Leo Stein. Sage discovers that Josef’s real name is Reiner Hartmann; he was the Schutzhaftlagerführer of the women’s camp in Auschwitz (a role that had him responsible for keeping the camp in order) while his younger brother, Franz, was the Hauptscharführer sergeant, in charge of administrative duties.
As teenagers, Sage’s paternal grandmother, Minka, and her best friend, Darija, were in the same women’s camp of which the Hartmann brothers were in charge. Minka has the ability to speak German, and is giving the position of Franz’ secretary. Franz was sympathetic and kind to Minka, while Josef/Reiner was brutal and cruel; their differing personalities made them quarrel often. One day when Minka sends a letter on Franz’s stationary to have Darija accompany her to Franz’ office, they caught Josef/Reiner stealing from Franz’ safe, Josef/Reiner shot Darija to death. When Franz walked in during the incident and confronted him, Josef/Reiner claimed that he had caught the girls stealing and shot Darija to punish her. He threatened to shoot Minka as well if Franz didn’t punish her, so Franz was forced to brutally beat up Minka to save her life. Eventually, Minka escaped Auschwitz. Unfortunately, she is unable to identify Josef when Leo presents her with a picture of him. Shortly after, she passes away in her sleep.
As a teenager, Minka wrote a novel about a girl, Ania. Some of the residents of the village where Ania lived were being brutally attacked by a vampire. Ania soon discovered that the vampire was the brother of Aleks, the man whom she loved. Aleks was also involved in some of the killings (not voluntarily, but because it was his nature) but was not as brutal as his brother. Much of the novel focused on Ania’s struggle of loving a man who was a “monster”. At the camp, when Franz discovered Minka’s novel, he insisted that she finish the story, but she never did. Later, when Sage discovers that Josef is really Franz, she finds the novel in his possession – and that he attempted to write several endings for it. Minka had given the novel to an officer in the leather journal in exchange for her life. The novel played a key role several times throughout the book, especially as a distraction when Minka took care of Darija tooth!
Sage’s mother died after the two were involved in a car accident that occurred when Sage was driving. It leaves Sage with scars both physical and emotional. She works as a baker ….a night shift job to avoid contact with people. She is an excellent baker, of course, this is my favorite part of the novel….all those delicious breads!
Sage is dating a married man named Adam, who owns the funeral home where her mother’s wake was held. She eventually dumps him and becomes involved with Leo.
Close to the end of the novel, Josef tires of Sage’s indecision and unsuccessfully tries taking his own life. When Sage visits him in the hospital, he confesses that he’d coincidentally met her mother years ago; he was going to ask her to help him die after finding out that she was related to a Holocaust survivor (Minka being her mother-in-law) but then she passed away before he could. He didn’t realize Sage was her daughter at first, but once he did, he thought it was fate and that’s why he decided to ask her.
I really enjoyed figuring out the accuracy of the confessed Nazi’s story. Why did he lead on that he was Reiner? I believe it was because he felt so guilty and evil for being a part of the holocaust. He actually felt as dirty as if he really were Reiner. It is hard to image but I believe he has no regret for watching his brother Reiner die; he just regrets not having the strength and courage to stop him sooner. How are we so sure that Josef/Reiner is actually Franz? In the file of Reiner that Leo has, Reiner’s blood type is AB, but Josef’s blood type on his hospital bracelet still on his wrist was B+…perfect detective clue!
Compelling page turner for me, the intriguing historical story and underlying story of human spirit and strength - very enjoyable to read.
**Pictures via Google Image Search