The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Review written by one member of the reading group:

Last month’s book club choice, “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult, encompassed three main themes: trauma, justice and forgiveness.
Minka is a young Jew living in Poland before and during Nazi occupation. The book vividly contrasts her carefree life before, with the increasingly narrow existence forced upon the community followed by all the horrors of survival in a concentration camp where two German brothers were posted. The description of their upbringing, indoctrination into the Nazi party, prompted discussion about how individuals, as well as groups, can be drawn into committing increasingly horrible acts. Do individuals always ultimately have responsibility for their own actions and what part do social pressures play?

The second theme of justice is explored through the character of Sage, a young women driven by guilt following a car accident which killed her mother and left her facially scarred. She comes from a Jewish family but doesn’t consider herself a Jew. Her Grandmother is Minka, whose fairytale about two brothers, based on folklore about monsters, is started as a carefree young Polish girl before Nazi occupation and continues during the horrors of loss and deprivation in a concentration camp. This encompasses questions about what it means to be a survivor, a story teller, a human being. ” Not all Jews were victims and not all Germans were murderers”. Minka’s story really made us examine that statement.

Sage meets a well liked and respected elderly man through a grief counseling group they both attend.  They have a connection and a friendship develops until he confesses that he was a Nazi officer who committed atrocities.  He wishes Sage to help him die but also wants her forgiveness as a Jew.  Horrified, she reports the confession.  As she and Leo, from the dept of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions,  search to establish the truth of his story, Sage uncovers her Grandmother’s history.  The question this raised was, can murder ever be justice, or mercy?

Forgiveness is the third theme. The issue was debated as to whether, by subsequently turning their lives around and trying to do good in the community, people deserve to be forgiven or should such horrific acts be unforgivable?

The end of the book has a twist that some saw coming and there was discussion about whether the ending was true to Sage’s character as well as debating its moral aspect.