The Reader Book Summary and Characters, Bernhard Schlink


What is the summary of the book The Reader written by Bernhard Schlink? Information about the summary, characters and analysis of The Reader.

the reader

The Reader

“The Reader” is a novel by Bernhard Schlink that explores themes of guilt, shame, love, and coming of age. The story is set in post-World War II Germany and is narrated by Michael Berg, who as a 15-year-old boy, begins a love affair with a 36-year-old woman named Hanna Schmitz. Hanna is a former Nazi guard who is put on trial for war crimes, and Michael later learns that she is illiterate.

The central theme of the novel is the idea of personal responsibility for one’s actions, and the long-term effects of guilt and shame. Hanna, as a member of the Nazi party, is responsible for the atrocities committed during the war, but she is also a complex and sympathetic character who is haunted by her past. Michael, too, is implicated in Hanna’s crimes by virtue of his love for her and his complicity in her actions.

The novel also explores the power of reading and education, as Hanna’s illiteracy is a significant factor in her life and her choices. The act of reading becomes a way for Michael to confront the past and come to terms with his own guilt and shame.


Overall, “The Reader” is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that raises important questions about the nature of morality, personal responsibility, and the complex legacy of the Holocaust in post-war Germany.

Book Summary

“The Reader” is a novel by Bernhard Schlink that takes place in post-World War II Germany and is narrated by a man named Michael Berg. The story begins in 1958 when Michael, who is 15 years old, falls ill on his way home from school and is helped by a woman named Hanna Schmitz. After he recovers, Michael visits Hanna to thank her, and the two begin a passionate love affair that lasts for several months.

Hanna is a 36-year-old tram conductor who is aloof and reserved, and Michael is captivated by her mystery and her strong, silent presence. They spend many afternoons together in her apartment, where Hanna demands that Michael read to her before they make love. Michael is happy to oblige, and he reads to her from classic literature like “The Odyssey” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

As their relationship deepens, Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate, and he begins to read to her more regularly. One day, however, Hanna disappears without a trace, and Michael is left heartbroken and confused.

Years later, Michael is studying law at the university and attends a trial of female guards who worked at a concentration camp during World War II. To his shock and horror, he sees Hanna among the defendants, accused of being complicit in the death of hundreds of Jewish prisoners who were locked in a burning church. Despite her crimes, Michael still feels a deep connection to her and is torn between his loyalty to her and his moral obligation to see justice served.

As the trial proceeds, Michael learns more about Hanna’s past and her experiences during the war. He discovers that she was part of a group of SS guards who forced Jewish women to march long distances while they were naked and then locked them in the burning church. Hanna claims that she was simply following orders and didn’t know that the women would die, but Michael is unconvinced.

During the trial, it is revealed that Hanna is illiterate, and Michael realizes that her inability to read and write was a major factor in her life and her choices. She was ashamed of her illiteracy and went to great lengths to hide it, which is why she joined the SS and later worked as a tram conductor.


As the trial draws to a close, Michael must confront his own role in Hanna’s crimes and come to terms with his own guilt and shame. He realizes that his love for her was a form of complicity, and that he too bears responsibility for what happened during the war.

“The Reader” is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that explores complex themes of guilt, shame, love, and personal responsibility. It raises important questions about the nature of morality and the legacy of the Holocaust in post-war Germany, and it challenges readers to consider their own roles in the larger moral fabric of society.


“The Reader” features several important characters, including:

  1. Michael Berg: The novel’s narrator and protagonist, Michael is a German man who is first introduced as a 15-year-old schoolboy. He falls in love with Hanna Schmitz and has an affair with her that has a profound impact on his life. As an adult, Michael becomes a successful lawyer and is haunted by his memories of Hanna.
  2. Hanna Schmitz: Hanna is a former Nazi guard who is accused of war crimes and put on trial. She is the novel’s central character and is portrayed as complex and deeply flawed. Despite her past, she is also sympathetic and compelling, and readers are drawn to her despite her crimes.
  3. Ilana Mather: One of the survivors of the concentration camp where Hanna worked as a guard, Ilana is called to testify against Hanna in court. She is a key witness and provides important testimony about the events that took place during the war.
  4. Rose Mather: Ilana’s daughter, Rose is also called to testify in court. She provides a different perspective on the events that took place and offers insight into the impact that the war had on survivors and their families.
  5. Gertrud Ziesel: A former colleague of Hanna’s, Gertrud is also put on trial for her role in the concentration camp. She is portrayed as cowardly and opportunistic, in contrast to Hanna’s strength and stoicism.
  6. The judge: The judge presiding over the trial is a fair and impartial figure who must navigate the complex legal and moral issues at play in the case.
  7. Various minor characters: The novel also features a range of minor characters who provide insight into life in post-war Germany and the broader historical context of the story. These characters include Michael’s family members, his friends, and his colleagues in the legal profession.

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