Jodi Picoult has a talent for talking about harrowing experiences – from child abuse to suicide pacts, murder to school shootings – and forcing the reader into the minds of everybody involved. But how is it possible to do this with the Holocaust? As it turns out, very well indeed.
The Storyteller begins with Sage Singer, a young woman dealing – badly – with the loss of her mother in a car crash a few years prior. Sage attends a group created for people dealing with grief and it is there she meets Josef Weber, a quiet old man who, out of the blue, asks Sage to help him die. Why? Because, back in the 1940s, he worked in a concentration camp as a Nazi SS guard.
It is quite astonishing to me that the Holocaust was only 80 years ago; it’s really not ancient history. In the last year I’ve read books that that were published a long time before, but still felt fresh to me. Jodi Picoult almost abandons her trademark style of writing in The Storyteller (you will not find a court case here!) and instead tells a story within a story within a story, which worked remarkably. We’re introduced to characters – and their point of view – throughout the story. I became immersed, not confused, as each story progressed and as each piece of the puzzle (because there’s always a puzzle!) came together. The Storyteller also respectfully addresses the complicated matter of forgiveness and who really benefits from it.
While reading The Storyteller, I did not discover anything about the Holocaust that I did not already know – it is not meant to serve as a history lesson – but it’s the first time I’ve gotten close to thinking about what it would be like to experience Nazi cruelty first-hand. And it was the first time I thought about what Nazis themselves saw, felt and believed. It is brilliantly told and wonderfully wraps together, while still doing justice to its characters – and the real people who suffered. It’s a revealing yet unforgiving story, moving between present life as Sage struggles with what Josef has asked her to do, and Minka’s torturous story of life as a young Jewish girl under the Nazi regime.
Does The Storyteller beat Nineteen Minutes to be my favourite Jodi Picoult novel? Possibly. I’ll have to re-read Nineteen Minutes to find out, but if not, it’s close second.
Published: 26th February 2013 (US) 26th March 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Atria (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Source: Thank you Hodder & Stoughton for providing this book for review!
If you liked: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys