Rating: 5 / 5
Sage Singer is a professed loner. She is a baker at Our Daily Bread, working when the bakery is closed, in the middle of the night. After an accident a few years ago which left a conspicuous scar on her face, Sage has been surrounded by loneliness and grief. One day Josef Weber walks into her bakery after seeing her at the grief group they both attend. A friendship is struck, but one based on the fact that Josef has wanted to atone for sins committed decades ago, and not being able to, he wants Sage to help him die. Josef claims to have been a Nazi SS guard and sent many men, women, and children to their deaths. Somehow, he has escaped death numerous times, and now wants Sage’s assistance. Besides the moral complications with fulfilling this request, Sage’s grandmother is a concentration camp survivor.
It took me a while to warm up to Sage. I couldn’t figure out what her shtick was or why she was so sensitive about her facial scars. However, as her story unfolded, and I learned more about her past and her circumstances, it was easier to sympathize with her. And of course I was totally rooting on her and Leo.
Picoult is one of my favorite authors. She consistently delivers stories that are moving, and her writing is amazingly eloquent. Rarely does an author challenge my own perceptions and beliefs, and to do so time and time again is just plain awesome. When I originally read the jacket, I thought this was overwhelmingly about Sage participating in euthanasia. Oh how wrong I was. Instead, it is largely the story of both sides of the Holocaust. On one end is Sage’s grandmother, Minka, who barely and miraculously survives, and on the opposite end of the spectrum is Josef, an SS officer at Auschwitz. Minka’s story is engrossing, and the strength and perseverance she demonstrated is palpable on every page. I can’t talk too much about Josef without giving away some of the good parts, but his story is also interesting, just to a slightly lesser degree.
Picoult does a great job tackling the Holocaust theme. Sure, many many authors have written on this subject, and countless will do so in the future, but with Picoult, she writes with so much heart and emotion its hard not to get pulled in. Picoult also grapples with the issue of morality, and if people can change over time. If someone commits a crime and then spends decades trying in his own way to atone, is it ok to forgive? Should that person be branded as a monster the rest of his life? I don’t think my answer has changed after reading The Storyteller, but this book has made me think heavily about the topic and discern the difference between forgiveness and accountability.
Like all Picoult novels, this is a must-read. And also, like all Picoult novels, a box of tissues must be at arms-reach.