Thu, 21 Jun 2018
‘An unputdownable read’ may be a bit of a cliché but in the case of The Storyteller by Jodie Picoult it is not far from the truth. After My Sister’s Keeper, which I thought was fresh and original (the book not the film!), I felt that Picoult’s books became somewhat formulaic and I lost interest in her writing. How wrong I was.
In The Storyteller, she has managed to create a compelling and engrossing narrative centred around the atrocities inflicted by the Hitler regime on the Jews during the Second World War. It is a well-trodden literary path, but Picoult manages to come at it from a fresh angle weaving three strands of narrative through the book that raise the issues of forgiveness, revenge and whether a person is truly accountable for their actions when the instinct for survival dictates that they behave as they do.
The protagonist Sage Singer has her own demons, but this is really the story of her grandmother Minka, whose harrowing account of growing up as a Jew in Poland and surviving Auschwitz is heart-breaking and remind us once again of that terrible time.
On the flip side, Sage has also befriended a kindly old gentleman, Josef Weber, who reveals himself to have been an SS officer stationed at Auschwitz during the war, now looking for forgiveness and death, both at Sage’s hands.
While Sage has to decide the rights and wrongs of the situation, she also enlists the help of Leo Stein from the office of
human rights and special prosecutions, whose only power is to gather enough evidence to have Josef extradited.
Woven throughout the action is a fable written by Sage’s grandmother when she was a girl. She started writing it before the war and continued the story during her imprisonment and fight for survival. This is no girlie fairytale, but rather a gritty savage folktale about an upior, a living dead, who terrorises a village. It would put any vampire story to shame.
And this is where Picoult doesn’t let the reader down. This novel is not for the faint-hearted and there were moments when I found it very hard to keep going. She holds no punches; each one of the different strands is told compellingly and with a savage realism.
During the course of her research for the novel, she spoke to Auschwitz survivors and said she used their experiences in the book, which gives it its authenticity, which only serves to highlight the inhuman way in which the Jews were treated.
At just more than 500 pages, The Storyteller is not a short read, but it is a quick one because you will find yourself staying up late to keep turning the pages to follow the narrative through. I have taken far longer to read some novels of only a third of the length.
The Storyteller is a reminder that we really must never forget the reality of a period of history still in many people’s living memory and Picoult adds a trademark twist which leaves open to debate the ethical questions she has raised.
I hesitate to say I enjoyed the book, that doesn’t seem the right word, but I thoroughly recommend it.