From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things, My Sister’s Keeper, and House Rules comes an astonishing and complex novel that proves some stories live forever.
Mourning the passing of her mother, Sage Singer decides to attend a grief support group. She doesn’t expect to start an unlikely friendship with an elderly man also attending. Josef Weber is a beloved, retired teacher and Little League coach. Together they attempt to heal.
But one day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses but then he confesses his darkest and long-buried secret, one that irrevocably changes Sage’s worldview. She suddenly finds herself facing questions she never expected, such as what do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all, if Sage even considers his request, is it murder or justice? The Storyteller explores these issues and more in this “profound and moving novel about secrets, lies, and how the power of stories can change the course of history” (Shelf Awareness).
The back cover copy (which is what I’ve posted above) doesn’t do a summary of the story justice. Sure, it was enough to reel me in and make my buy my first Jodi Picoult novel since high school with the promise of something OTHER THAN a sick kid and a court case, but it doesn’t tell you this: The Storyteller is a novel about the Holocaust.
The novel shows the reader four perspectives: Sage’s, Josef’s, Leo’s, and Minka’s. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll know that when we first switched perspectives, I complained. I take this back. First off, Jodi doesn’t do it as frequently as she has in the other books I’ve read by her. Secondly, I could have gotten lost in Minka’s perspective for all eternity, and we don’t hear from her until the very middle of the book. Minka’s story is that of the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust.
If you’ve never read any prose on the Holocaust, fiction or otherwise, then this will likely be a hard book for you to stomach. It is very emotional and raw. By all means, don’t let that deter you, though. Jodi Picoult has written here another one of the great novels that needs to be studied by generations to come. I’ve studied, extensively, WWII and the Holocaust in high school and university, so while this book didn’t make me cry because I knew what to expect, it did teach me a lot about humanity and empathy. The question central to the story is this: Is evil unforgivable, even if the person who committed that evil repents their sins? I believe the novel ends with the answer being that no, evil–especially evil such as the Holocaust–is unforgivable, but please let me know if you disagree. I also think that the novel presents the circumstances in a way that force that conclusion, but I could envision scenarios in which such evil could at least come close to being forgivable in individual circumstances. If you’ve read the book, perhaps you know what I mean. Importantly, Minka does an excellent job of underlining that blaming an entire group of people for evil done by only some of that group is wrong, and thus she emphasizes that the Germans are not the ones to hate after the Holocaust because that would make her just as bad as the SS Nazis that imprisoned her.
As I write this review, I’m trying very hard not to give anything away, because there are twists and turns at literally every corner of the story. Believe me when I say that Jodi Picoult has changed my opinion about her as a writer to a much better one and that I’ve learned so much from this novel. I’m glad I waited to read this when I did, though, because the mass-market trade paperback, and the cover, were a really great format to read it in. I think this particular cover is the best one of any edition I’ve seen and relates best to the story arch that Jodi takes us on.
Why only 4 stars? I was disappointed by the ending, for two reasons: 1. I saw that final twist coming, and in fact predicted it in the first quarter of the book, and 2. It ended much too abruptly. I do find it interesting, though…and let me try to say why without spoilers. Hmm. I think that, with this ending, Jodi is asking us if we can forgive one of the main characters for what they’ve just done. Is this main character any better than some of the other characters in the book, or the same? Have they committed evil? Does it make them a monster? Does it overshadow any of their other qualities as a person? So while I felt the ending was abrupt and thus disappointing, I do think Jodi’s purpose was for us to ponder these questions. Had she gone much further with the story, she may have started answering them herself.