The Reader

It is easy to see why The Reader by Bernhard Schlink became a bestseller. I haven’t seen the movie with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, but I would like to. If you have seen the movie, do read the book!

The Reader can be divided into three sections. In the first part, Michael Berg, the narrator, is a fifteen year-old growing up in post-war Germany. Off school and recovering from hepatitis, while walking near his home one day, he meets a woman, Hanna, who helps him out. Returning to her home, they embark on a relationship which lasts for many weeks, only to end suddenly when the woman disappears.  Part two takes place a few years later when, as a law student, Michael’s class attends a trial of a group of women who were guards in a concentration camp during the war. Hanna is one of the women on trial. The third part of the novel takes place over a period of ten years, the last ten years of Hanna’s imprisonment.

What struck me in the first part of the novel was Bernhard Schlink’s description of adolescence.

Does everyone feel this way? When I was young, I was perpetually overconfident or insecure. Either I felt completely useless, unattractive, and worthless, or that I was pretty much a success, and everything I did was bound to succeed. When I was confident, I could overcome the hardest challenges. But all it took was the smallest setback for me to be sure that I was utterly worthless. Regaining my self-confidence had nothing to do with success; every goal I set myself, every recognition I craved made anything I actually did seem paltry by comparison, and whether I experienced it as a failure or triumph was utterly dependent on my mood.

This characterization rings true to me, not necessarily for every adolescent, but definitely for many. The mood swings of teenagers are frequent. I see it in the campers at Nominingue and I see it in my daughter. I also remember how I was affected when I was the same age.

Nominingue is a community where boys from 7 to 15 spend between a week and three weeks living in tents, learning new skills and setting off on canoe trips. Each session, there are between twenty-five and fifty 14 and 15 year olds at camp. The good counsellor recognizes that mood swings are a normal part of growing up for many kids. These counsellors ensure that they are present to listen, to encourage, to offer advice when asked, and to forge a supportive relationship with each and every camper. Having these role models present is one way that camps like Nominingue help boys through the trials and tribulations of adolescence.