“Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.
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?” – Goodreads
In The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, Sage Singer is a physically and emotionally disfigured young woman who, after three years, is still actively mourning her mother’s death. She attends a grief support group, where she meets beloved community hero, Josef Weber. Sage and Josef form a fast friendship, despite the fact that Sage has isolated herself from all others since her mother’s death and her own facial disfigurement from the same accident. Sage is so pleased with this new relationship – until Josef blows it all to hell. Kill me, he says. I was a Nazi SS Officer at Auschwitz, he says. Holy Crapballs, Sage says! To further complicate matters, Sage’s grandmother, Minka, happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Gasp!
The novel is comprised of several points of view, including Sage’s as she struggles to reconcile sweet Josef Weber with an evil Nazi, Josef’s as he tells the story of his life and crimes as a Nazi SS Officer, and Minka’s story of her path from the ghettos of Poland to the concentration camps, and finally to freedom. Minka’s story is particularly moving, detailing the growing desperation, despair, and utter desolation she grapples with throughout her experience as a Jewish captive in Nazi-Occupied Poland. Of course the book details Sage’s struggle to come to a decision whether or not to help Josef die as well as her struggle to reconcile the kind man whom she cares for with an evil enigma of the past.
While The Storyteller veers away from Picoult’s usual formula (there is no court case in this one), there is that classic Picoult twist at the end. I’m fairly talented at sniffing these things out and had made my guess about half-way through the book (and was right!) but I don’t think most people will make the same connections, so there will still be that shock at the end. As always, Picoult raises many questions within this book. Is assisting in Josef’s death an act of mercy or an act of justice? Can a person be both good and evil? And do we as individuals have the power to forgive someone for truly heinous acts against humankind?
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult is a seriously engaging novel. I’m fairly demanding of the books I read. I get bored easily, and don’t usually re-read books unless many, many years have passed. But I would totally re-read this book tomorrow if it fell into my lap. That Good. Check it out now, people. You will not regret it.
5 out of 5 stars
Who I would recommend this book to: My sister-in-law, Rebecca, who gave me my first Jodi Picoult novel (My Sister’s Keeper) in 2005.