The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

storytellerSage Singer is a young woman who is struggling to deal with the death of her mother. She joins a support group where she meets Josef Weber – a respected elderly man in the community. As a shy woman she doesn’t have or make friends easily and she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Josef.   As he is described, Josef comes across as one of those fragile older men that we gravitate towards. The grandfather you wish you still had, but he hides a terrible secret.  He was a Nazi SS guard in the 1940s during the Holocaust and he wants something from Sage: to help him die. That’s not all he wants, he wants her to forgive him

Sage is shocked and not sure what to do. Does she forgive him? Do as he asks and help him commit suicide or does she report him?  Sage is also aware that her grandmother, Minka, was a Holocaust survivor, but she never talks about it. Not even now when Sage asks her to.  When she eventually does Sage (and us) learns about Minka’s past – of a young girl who lived and survived the horrors of Auschwitz.

Reading Josef’s story gives you insight into what went on during that time from the perspective of an SS guard. What he had to do, what thoughts went through his mind while doing them and how it affected him. Reading his story made me almost hate the man who I previously found endearing. Can one person really redeem himself with a series of good acts after committing these horrible crimes against humanity? Can Sage forgive him on behalf of other Jews?

I was deeply immersed in reading Minka’s harrowing tale and it was my favourite by far.  It was a challenging read, an almost unforgiving story. For a young woman to lose all her loved ones in these circumstances and having to witness them.  How do you move on from that? It left me with many emotions: anger, disbelief and tears. Lots of tears.

Jodi Picoult is known for writing about moral dilemmas and even though I haven’t read any of her novels in a while, she remains one of my favourite authors. When I got back into reading more regularly a few years ago, Picoult’s books were the ones I picked up most often. Although I’m not familiar with her recent books, reading The Storyteller just reminded me why I loved this author’s writing.

As a fan of fiction about WW II, I loved this novel. I think this is my favourite book I’ve read so far in 2014. I was gifted this book by my friend Rean while I was at home recovering from surgery and I must say that this book was the perfect read. Reading Minka’s pain made me forget my own, so thank you Jodi for the perfect escape. I found myself thinking about her story long after I finished the book,  that’s the power of a good book.

Have you read The Storyteller? Do you think one person can forgive on behalf of others?

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  • Well this goes on the list! I love anything about WWII! I saw a picture of German soldiers, after the war, being shown pictures of what happened in the concentration camps. They were devastated. Can’t wait to read it.

    • They weren’t aware? I am a sucker for anything WW II. I hope you enjoy this book, I think everyone should read it, it’s just a great read.

      • No. They were off fighting. Lots of Germans didn’t know what was really going on. The soldiers looked shocked and devastated.
        I can’t wait to read it.
        Have you read The Hiding Place?

        • Yeah some that wasn’t at the camps didn’t know. Shame. No, I haven’t read The Hiding Place yet.

  • I read this book last year and also thought it was very good. In fact, I read Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower because of it, which was one of the inspirations for The Storyteller. It contains essays from all different people about whether one can forgive on others’ behalf. The different viewpoints and the arguments behind them were very interesting. It made me think…

    • I think I might want to read that book too, for the very same reasons you did. Thank you for the reminder!

  • I have looked at this a number of times, but not sure I can read it. Perhaps I’ve read too much non-fiction about that terrible part of history. The story does sound amazing though.


  • I haven’t read any Jodi Picoult for a while after binge-reading a few years ago but I think I will have to pick this up after your great review (I hope you are feeling better) I love anything to do with the war and I’m intrigued to see how the author portrays the SS Guard.

    • I also did binge-reading with Picoult’s book. In fact, I have some books at home I bought a few years ago – still haven’t read it. I was buying every Picoult book I could lay my hands on and then I stopped reading her books, because I had to read other books too.

      Thank you! I hope you will enjoy the read. It was an emotional read for me and that SS guard made me angry sometimes. Almost like at some point he was being unapologetic.

  • Hope you are feeling better! I am glad yo hear you liked this- i thought it was probably one of her best.

    • I am feeling better, thanks for asking. I’m glad I read this book, I also think it’s one of her best.

  • I have never read one of her books! But I have another friend who read The Storyteller and loved it! I don’t think anyone has the power to forgive for others who are wronged. I think I’d love this book!

    • I feel the same and that’s what I said to Sage in my mind. It’s okay to admit you’ve never read her books, but you can start with The Storyteller 🙂

  • I have never read any of her books, maybe I should

    • Then you should start with this one.

  • aah, I picked up this book at EB two weeks ago and thought to myself I really should read this book. Sounds amazing and Picoult is also one of my favourite authors. It’s been some time since I had a moment to read leisurely so I haven’t been in the loop with her novels as well. Your write-up made me realise that I really HAVE to read this book.
    As part of my Media degree, we had done an in-depth course on “religious wars” that left me flabbergasted over the horrors of the Holocaust. Since then, I’ve had a keen interest on reading survivors’ stories and following up on their lives.

    Thanks for the review 🙂
    So sorry to hear you’ve been through surgery. Hope you’re well and your recovery’s been smooth!
    take care. xx

    • HI Saajida! Well if you have the book, you should really read it. It’s an emotional read, it’s good for the soul! I can understand why you should have been flabbergasted. The Holocaust were a horrible crime against humanity and I love reading fiction around WWII. I’ve recently watched Schindler’s List – very sad movie. It’s a very visual representation of what happened.

      Thanks for the well wishes!

  • This book sounds so good! My mother recommended it to me, as well. Now I just have to get to it. Nice review!

    • Well you should listen to your mother 🙂 Honestly, I really like this book. I love fiction about WWII, but that’s not the only reason I enjoyed it.

  • I’m glad you liked it! This is on my to-read list as well, of course 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it, especially since you love fiction about WWII as well. Thanks for the nice gift 🙂

  • I don’t know much about Picoult, but I would like to read this. It sounds harrowing but important, and I like that the author has written about forgiveness in this situation, because it must be difficult and a good subject to explore.

    • That was a nice topic to cover – forgiveness. It makes you think, would you have done it. I personally enjoyed this one and I think it might be my favourite Picoult I’ve read so far. It’s not an easy read at all, but like you said, it’s important to know and it’s a great story.

  • Such a good book because it’s so incredibly controversial! I HATED Josef’s sections. He made me soooo angry. What a good author for making me feel such hatred for a main character!

    • She is a good author, most definitely. I love this book!

  • I have this on my shelves but haven’t picked it up yet because of the dark subject matter. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, though, and that it compelled you to think and made such a huge impact. I’ll definitely be bumping it up my TBR so I can read it soon. Wonderful review! 🙂

    • Thank you Keertana. I hope you read it soon, since you have it.

  • Must read this one!!

  • Hello Melinda,
    I am really excited to have read this book review. I have been a long time fan of Jodi Picoult but haven’t read one of her books in awhile. I also am intrigued by WWII (sounds like you and I have a lot in common). Thank you for the review. I will definitely be reading it soon! Thanks for sharing this fun post on Small Victories Sunday!

    • Thanks for stopping by. I love fiction about WWII and this one was a great read. This was also my first Picoult read in a while.

  • I haven’t read this one yet. I read most of her earlier books but two or three books ago (I’m hazy on the order), I decided that her books were getting less and less intriguing and have been scared to try again. Maybe I’ll check this one out and try to get back on the Picoult wagon.

    • I also didn’t read the later ones, of the past few years. I love her earlier books and some of them I still have unread! I think of this one as my favourite Picoult, because the subject matter is what interest me and also because the story was just so beautiful. You might enjoy this, I think. Especially if you enjoyed Sarah’s Key

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  • I have been saving this link in my email until I read the book. Definitely one of my favorites of 2014 so far too. Hard to write a review on as well…may be the hardest review I’ve written to date.

    • It was hard yes. Some of my feelings for Joseph I couldn’t even pen into words! I will look out for your review