Reading Group Discussion Questions
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The questions, discussion topics and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, a haunting story of love and guilt in which the legacy of Nazi crimes enters a young man's life in an unexpected and irrevocable way.  
  1. At what point does the significance of the book's title become clear to you? Who is "The Reader"? Are there others in the story with an equally compelling claim to this role?
  2. When does the difference in social class between Hanna and Michael become most clear and painful? Why does Hanna feel uncomfortable staying overnight in Michael's house? Is Hanna angry about her lack of education?
  3. Why is the sense of smell so important in this story? What is it about Hanna that so strongly provokes the boy's desire? If Hanna represents "an invitation to forget the world in the recesses of the body" (p. 16), why is she the only woman Michael seems able to love?
  4. One reviewer has pointed out that "learning that the love of your life used to be a concentration camp guard is not part of the American baby boomer experience."* Is The Reader's central theme—love and betrayal between generations—particular to Germany, given the uniqueness of German history? Is there anything roughly parallel to it in the American experience?
  5. In a novel so suffused with guilt, how is Michael guilty? Does his narrative serve as a way of putting himself on trial? What verdict does he reach? Is he asking readers to examine the evidence he presents and to condemn him or exonerate him? Or has he already condemned himself?
  6. When Michael consults his father about Hanna's trial, does his father give him good advice? Why does Michael not act upon this advice? Is the father deserving of the son's scorn and disappointment? Is Michael's love for Hanna meant, in part, to be an allegory for his generation's implication in their parents' guilt?
  7. Do you agree with Michael's judgment that Hanna was sympathetic with the prisoners she chose to read to her, and that she wanted their final month of life to be bearable? Or do you see Hanna in a darker light: Do the testimonies about her cruelty and sadism ring true?
  8. Asked to explain why she didn't let the women out of the burning church, Hanna remembers being urgently concerned with the need to keep order. What is missing in her reasoning process? Are you surprised at her responses to the judge's attempt to prompt her into offering self-defense as an excuse?


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