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Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller

My Rating:                  5 / 5
Format:                       Paperback, provided by The Reading Room
Publication Date:     1 March 2013
Extent:                        480
ISBN:                          9781743315187
Imprint:                       Allen & Unwin

RRP:                          AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Sage Singer is a young woman who has been damaged by her past. Her solitary night work as a baker allows her to hide from the world and focus her creative energies on the beautiful bread she bakes.

Yet she finds herself striking up an unlikely friendship. Josef Weber is a quiet, grandfatherly man, well respected in the community; everyone’s favourite retired teacher and Little League coach.

One day he asks Sage for a favour: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses.

Then Josef tells her that he deserves to die – and why.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed horrendous acts ever truly redeem themselves? IS forgiveness yours to offer if you aren’t the person who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – would it be murder, or justice?

Overview and Thoughts

The Holocaust was the genocide of millions of Jews led by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party throughout German-occupied territory during World War II. Ultimately a systematic state-sponsored murder in Hitler’s pursuit of his dream to create the perfect Aryan Race, Jewish children did not escape this persecution and approximately one million became statistics along with two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men.

A huge fan of this prolific author, I was quite enthralled when an Advance Reading Copy of this book arrived on my doorstep and couldn’t wait to sink my proverbial teeth into it. Through her extensive research and in blending fact with fiction, Jodi Picoult has done it again and brings us a powerful story of one woman’s survival, one man’s search for redemption of his guilt at the atrocities he helped commit and the moral dilemma evoked by a young woman merely because of her heritage.

Sage Singer is a loner. Born into a Jewish family and a baker by profession, she has a scar on her face as a result of a car accident and prefers to hide away in the bakery kitchen of a friend where she bakes delicious bread. She befriends Josef Weber, a ninety-five-year-old widower and former schoolteacher through a grief group they both attend and they soon strike up an unlikely friendship when he begins to frequent the little café attached to the bakery.

When Josef asks Sage to kill him, along with the reasons for his request, she is caught up in her own moral dilemma, consequently enlisting the help of Leo Stein, an FBI Agent with a special interest in tracing former Nazi SS Officers guilty of war crimes, specifically those who carried out the heinous massacres against the Jews in the concentration camps.

Together, Leo and Sage embark on a journey which sees Josef relating his story to Sage, and Leo finally persuading Sage’s grandmother, Minka, a modern-day Scheherazade, to recount her own tragic story in the hopes that a testimony from her will assist in having Josef deported and tried in a court of law for his unspeakable crimes against humanity.

From the depths of the Polish ghetto in Lodz to the terrifying visuals of the gas chambers used for the purpose of systematic mass extermination contained in Auschwitz, Jodi, through Minka’s character, has found the perfect pace for the subject matter at hand and I found myself in a time warp, visually transported by her storytelling ability.

Told in three parts, both in retrospect and present day, with a Gothic fairytale seamlessly weaving its way through each character’s tale, Jodi has written a compelling novel which is at times both gut-wrenching and graphic and took me a while to finish as I had to keep putting it down to try and wrap my head around the atrocities I was reading about, all the while thinking that my high school history lessons on the Second World War didn’t even puncture the surface of the true facts.

Vivid and disturbing, with a brilliantly executed plot, multifaceted characters and some added psychological twists, this is a morally complex tale, rich with authenticity and one which will leave you trying to rationalise the fluctuating line between good and evil!

I would like to extend my thanks to both the publisher, Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for providing me with an advance reading copy.

A Little About the Author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty novels. Her most recent, Lone Wolf, Sing You Home and House Rules, have all been number one on the Australian and New Zealand fiction bestseller lists.

She studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education, her sense of realism and profound desire to be able to pay the rent led her to a series of different jobs following her graduation, some of which included being a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, a copywriter at an ad agency and an 8th grade English teacher.

In 2003 she was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction. She has also been the recipient of an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, sponsored by the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust and Booklist, one of ten books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults; Waterstone’s Author of the Year in the UK, a Vermont Green Mountain Book Award and a Virginia Reader’s Choice Award, the Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, to name a few. Her books are translated into thirty four languages in thirty five countries and three of them, The Pact, Plain Truth, and The Tenth Circle, have been made into television movies. My Sister’s Keeper was a big-screen release from New Line Cinema, starring Cameron Diaz, with Nick Cassavetes directing.

She married Tim Van Leer whom she met at Princeton and, along with their three children, they live in Hanover, New Hampshire with three Springer spaniels, two donkeys, two geese, eight ducks, five chickens, and the occasional Holstein.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult”

  1. I've been eagerly waiting to read your review of this one Marcia. It really is a powerful book and like you I too at times had to put it aside to process it. Having read a couple of Jodi's books now and enjoying how she addresses significant social and personal issues I am keen to get to reading the other three of hers I have on my shelf. Nice review.

  2. Thanks Jennie, as usual, your comments are appreciated and graciously accepted. I have been reading Jodi Picoult novels for many years now and always get extremely excited when another one is released. To me, she is a natural born storyteller and I love the way in which her novels invoke ponderings on the sometimes controversial issues she raises.

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