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  1. Why does Hanna twice ask the judge, "What would you have done?" Is the judge sympathetic toward Hanna? What is she trying to communicate in the moment when she turns and looks directly at him?
  2. Why does Michael visit the concentration camp at Struthof? What is he seeking? What does he find instead?
  3. Michael comments that Enlightenment law (the foundation of the American legal system as well as the German one) was "based on the belief that a good order is intrinsic to the world" (p. 181). How does his experience with Hanna's trial influence Michael's view of history and of law?
  4. What do you think of Michael's decision to send Hanna the tapes? He notices that the books he has chosen to read aloud "testify to a great and fundamental confidence in bourgeois culture" (p. 185). Does the story of Hanna belie this faith? Would familiarity with the literature she later reads have made any difference in her willingness to collaborate in Hitler's regime?
  5. One might argue that Hanna didn't willfully collaborate with Hitler's genocide and that her decisions were driven only by a desire to hide her secret. Does this view exonerate Hanna in any way? Are there any mitigating circumstances in her case? How would you have argued for her, if you were a lawyer working in her defense?
  6. Do you agree with the judgment of the concentration camp survivor to whom Michael delivers Hanna's money at the end of the novel? Why does she accept the tea tin, but not the money? Who knew Hanna better—Michael or this woman? Has Michael been deluded by his love? Is he another of Hanna's victims?
  7. Why does Hanna do what she does at the end of the novel? Does her admission that the dead "came every night, whether I wanted them or not" (pp. 198–99) imply that she suffered for her crimes? Is complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust an unforgivable sin?
  8. How does this novel leave you feeling and thinking? Is it hopeful or ultimately despairing? If you have read other Holocaust literature, how does The Reader compare?

*Suzanna Ruta, The New York Times Book Review, July 27, 1997: 8.

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