The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
|The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A change of direction for Picoult, with a story set largely outside the US and with a strong historical thread. I didn't feel that it was her strongest book but it is - as you might expect - very readable.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
Sage Singer is scarred both mentally and physically and has never really got over her mother's death. She works as a baker as the night work allows her to hide away from people and sleep in daylight hours, but she does develop one friendship which probably only happens because it seems non-threatening. Josef Weber, pillar of the local community, attends the same grief counselling group as Sage - and he's in his nineties. But when Sage relaxes into the relationship Josef tells her about himself and asks her to help him to die. Sage is shocked at the request and then repelled as Josef tells her more of his story.
Long-time fans of Jodi Picoult will have grown accustomed to her gripping stories which deal with a social or moral dilemma and are set in the present, in the United States. The Storyteller is a considerable step away from what you might be expecting. Much of the story is set in Europe - in Poland and Germany - and what happens in the future is only a continuation, a consequence of events in the nineteen forties. This is the story of what happened to Sage's grandmother and her family - all Jewish - as they were first pushed into the ghettos and then transported to the concentration camps.
Picoult has never balked at the challenge of dealing with the nitty gritty of life. Her writing has always been characterised by the meticulous research which informs (but never takes over) her writing, by a story which grabs hold of you and characters about whom you care. The Storyteller is no different. The time which Sage's grandmother spent in Auschwitz is graphically detailed and many will find it disturbing and heart-rending. It might not be specifically true - but it's certainly representative of what happened - and should, at the very least, make people wonder why it is still happening - happening in other parts of the world but nevertheless still happening. There's a dark thread of violence and death which weaves through the story and a story within the story, which runs through the book in an almost Scheherazade-like way.
I had to suspend belief on one or two occasions when coincidence seemed to feature just a little too strongly and I never really felt the strength of the right-to-die dilemma. For me the strength of the story was in Sage realising that she should - and could - be true to herself, that she was worth more than casual sex with a married man. I'm torn between hoping that Picoult will continue in this vein and wishing that she would revert to her tried-and-tested format. Whichever it is, I'm sure that it will be a gripping read.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For a rather less-harrowing look at life in the concentration camps you might like to try Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp by Helga Weiss, whilst the most gut-wrenching is Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman. For more fiction about World War II we can recommend The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.
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