Rating: 5 stars.
I don’t curse. When I finished The Storyteller, I couldn’t craft a coherent sentence. I just sat and thought to myself: damn.
Sage Singer bakes bread. It’s therapy for her, in addition to the grief support group she attends after losing her mother in a car crash. One day she befriends Josef Weber, a fellow support group goer and an elderly man who is a cherished member of their small town community. Sage soon realizes that Josef doesn’t just want her bread: he wants her to kill him. She learns that Josef has committed a terrible crime against humanity and that someone in her own family has suffered at the hands of the Nazis. With this connection in mind Sage struggles to make the right choice. Is it her to duty to deliver him from his wicked past, or would she bringing herself down to his level by doing so? Why is it so hard to find out what’s right, when faced with someone who’s done so much wrong?
Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller. For me, the most salient part of The Storyteller was when Minka, Sage’s grandmother, shared her story about surviving Auschwitz and the other horrors she endured during the Holocaust. Picoult’s writing is so welcoming, beautiful, and piercing that you feel your heart break into another piece every time you flip a page. There’s no doubt that what happened to the Jews was horrifying and a testament to the monstrous side of mankind, but when you read Picoult’s work, you don’t just think “wow, this is horrible” – you feel it, and you remember it, and you resolve that such crimes should never be allowed to happen again.
I feel like a lot of the criticism Picoult receives from the literary community stems from the argument that she takes controversial topics and uses repetitive plot structures to exploit them and sell bestsellers. I also feel that The Storyteller is the perfect book to counter that argument, because even though Picoult does use a somewhat similar formula in her novels (family issues, court cases, etc.) she is in no way exploitative, especially with this book. Like she does in her other novels, in The Storyteller she takes difficult topics like forgiveness, trauma, and justice, and makes you feel every blow through her three-dimensional characters. From Sage’s scar-induced reticence to Josef’s incisive inner turmoil, I rode a gamut of emotions expansive enough to cover an ocean.
The Storyteller is Picoult at her prime. She puts a human face on the Holocaust, a tragic, beastly, and horrendous event. She deftly delves into the human psyche and makes you think about what it means to be a survivor, a storyteller, a human.