The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Atria | Hardcover, 460 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I’ve struggled writing this review. Between the emotional mess it’d  made out of me and the historical importance of its theme, I couldn’t quite find the starting point of which I should tackle first.  I’ve always thought that Jodi Picoult is like Nicholas Sparks, in a sense that they both have perfected the formula for writing stories of profound love that often left their readers in a soggy, tear-drenched mess. They don’t promise happy endings and they don’t apologize for not giving them either. Because of that, I tend to run the other direction when I see a new release from either authors.

The Storyteller is different though. With equal parts trepidation and morbid curiosity, I picked up the book as soon as it came out. That doesn’t mean that I read it as soon as I got home. Had it not been for the fact that this book won the votes for my book club’s read of the month, I would’ve waited even longer to read it. Knowing the core concept of the book only helped me a little bit. I knew it was a story about the Holocaust. I knew it was going to be disturbing. I figured, Schindler’s List have prepared me for the graphic images that I will imagine while reading this book.

I was wrong.

There’s something inherently more explicit when the words of a writer gets digested inside a reader’s mind. The film version pushes an interpretation that somebody else has pictured for its viewers. While a novel’s version is somewhat the same, the reader still holds a certain liberty as to how the images will be conjured in their heads. And this is why I think the Holocaust in Picoult’s words was more jarring than Spielberg’s film. I don’t care how great an actor you are; there are just emotions that just can’t be conveyed on screen.

The Storyteller tells the tale of one scarred heroine who lives an insignificant life. She’s a baker who works at night when the café has shut down. Besides her little world consisting of her Grandmother, her ex-nun of a boss, the barista who talks exclusively in Haiku, and her already married lover, Sage pretty much avoided contact with people as much as she can. She goes to a grief therapy group in the hopes that she’ll get over the guilt of the death of her mother. During one of those sessions, she meets an old man whose one wish is to die. Josef, a former Nazi officer, has lived a very long life when all he ever wanted was to be free from shackles of guilt. He calls it mercy killing; Sage calls it, revenge.

These unlikely characters form a bond over the fact that they have people’s deaths in their hands. In Josef’s case, hundreds of Jews and in Sage’s, her mother’s. Both are searching for forgiveness and acceptance. While it may be easier to give it to Sage, it’s an impossibility for Josef. How do you forgive and forget such heinous crime against humanity? Tortured and murdered – because of their religion.

Josef will attempt to wring out your forgiveness and empathy. He will try to make you believe that he is a product of an environment that had no other cause but to go through the unbelievable acts against the Jews. He is old – really old. You might even think that punishing a man who’s at the waning part of his life may be fruitless. But Sage and Leo will tell you, as other families that were victimized by this crime, that there is no statute of limitations for murder – especially of this scale.

Sage’s grandmother was a survivor of the Holocaust. But she refused to tell her story. We will learn toward the end that Josef has purposely sought out her family for reasons that I can’t tell you lest you want the book spoiled. He wanted forgiveness from Sage’s grandmother – an absolution in behalf of those he’s killed. But you will learn that in Judaism, forgiveness cannot be given by those who were only related to the offendee. And since most of the victims has long since died, Josef’s absolution may not come in his lifetime.

I have overused the word, “difficult” in describing this book but I can’t think of another word more appropriate, to be honest. Jodi Picoult described every useless killing with such clarity and precise tone that I spent sometime closing the book if only to breathe. I spent sometime in tears as well and have talked my husband’s ear off about what to do with Josef. What would you do? How do you forgive him? Will you forgive him?

This thought-provoking novel will make you realize the importance of history and what we should do about it. To be educated, to learn about it is not enough. But to keep history from repeating is much like holding off the flow of water from a burst dam with bare hands. The sad part is, it has happened on too many occasions already (Syria, most recently). Genocide is one of the greatest inexplicable, unjustifiable act against humanity and the thing is, how do you stop hate?

Jodi Picoult has shown me a piece of history that no film could ever give justice. This may be a work of fiction but it gave me hope that at a certain point of this dark past, there kindness – though limited – and humanity to be had.

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