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The Storyteller

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2013)
Some stories live forever . . .

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.

Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?

In this searingly honest novel, Jodi Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future

461 pages, Hardcover

First published February 26, 2013

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About the author

Jodi Picoult

110 books76.4k followers
Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight novels, including Wish You Were Here, Small Great Things, Leaving Time, and My Sister’s Keeper, and, with daughter Samantha van Leer, two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire.

MAD HONEY, her new novel co-authored with Jennifer Finney Boylan, is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio on October 4, 2022.

Website: http://www.jodipicoult.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jodipicoult

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jodipicoult

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5 stars
105,868 (48%)
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3 stars
25,197 (11%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 19,320 reviews
Profile Image for Malvina.
1,451 reviews9 followers
December 4, 2013

Jodi Picoult has tackled yet another ‘big issue’ (forgiveness) in The Storyteller, but as in all her books things are a little more complicated than usual, and there’s her wow-didn’t-see-that-coming twist as well. Sage Singer is a loner. She works as a baker through the night, only befriending a few people, hardly ever talking to the customers, always staying behind the scenes in the store where she works. She has terrible scars on her face from a frightful accident, something she’s struggling to cope with – psychologically as well as physically – every day of her life. But it doesn’t stop her baking. Throughout the book I could almost smell Sage’s breads, the beautiful breads taught to her by her Jewish grandmother – and desperately wanted to taste them. Over time an unlikely friendship grows between her and an elderly customer in the store – Joseph Weber. And then, in a completely unexpected moment, Joseph asks Sage to kill him. He can’t live with the memories of what he’s done in the past... and tells her why he deserves to die. His story – and Sage’s grandmother’s story, a survivor of Auschwitz – are confronting and shocking.

You might think that this is ‘just’ another book about the Holocaust, but it isn’t. It is a privilege to read it; an honour to remember those whose lives were abruptly terminated in such terrible circumstances. We must not forget them, and we must learn from the mistakes of history, even if this means we metaphorically ‘gird our loins’ to read on, saddened and horrified and, yes, sickened at times. So is it worth the angst, the reader pain? Yes it is. Of course it is.

Woven through Jodi Picoult’s book is a fable, as it were, of fiction imitating life – or is it life imitating fiction? It’s told by Sage’s grandmother, and the ending is both confronting and unusual. It adds to the richness of the book, and it weaves the story of her grandmother and Joseph Weber together.

This is not an easy book to read, simply from the subject matter. And yet Jodi Picoult’s arresting and easy style of writing means the book will keep you riveted and make you think in the end.... I wonder what I would have done? Thank you Jodi Picoult, for making me think. And remember.
Profile Image for Scarlet.
187 reviews1,169 followers
June 28, 2013
---Some spoilers but nothing major---

The first few chapters of The Storyteller introduce us to Sage Singer - a twenty-something baker who is struggling with scars both emotional and physical. Following an accident that maimed half her face, Sage suffers from very low self-esteem, lives and works like a recluse and settles for being some guy's mistress.

Had I not read the blurb, I would have assumed that I was reading one of those chick-lit stories where an insecure girl with too much emotional baggage meets a guy who loves her for who she is.

400 pages later, that is EXACTLY what The Storyteller turned out to be.

What a bummer.

I'm not saying that The Storyteller doesn't talk about the Holocaust or doesn't do justice to it. In fact, the best parts are the flash-backs from WW2. I'll give credit where it's deserved - Jodi Picoult has researched the whole thing extremely well. And yet, the Holocaust angle always felt secondary to me. It did not get the attention it deserved. Or rather, undue attention was given to trivial plot-points.

Take the baking, for example. There is a ton of absolutely pointless information. What Sage bakes. Why she bakes. How she bakes. How gluten works. How brioche is made. Yadda yadda yadda.

Another useless detail that is hard to ignore - Sage's sisters are called Pepper and Saffron.
There's nothing technically wrong with those names except that they serve no purpose in the book whatsoever and stick out like a sore thumb.

All the side-characters were unrealistic and absolutely weird, again, for no reason other than grabbing undue attention.

All that time Picoult wasted on meaningless digressions could have been better spent in developing Josef and Sage's friendship, which felt rather sudden and underwhelming to me.

There's another story that is narrated in parallel. It has allegorical meaning in the context of the book . I wish this story was kept separate, maybe like a prologue/epilogue to each part. It's jarring to go from SS officer in one chapter to in the next.

Now, the good part. Minka's harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust is without question, the highlight of The Storyteller. The meticulously detailed descriptions make it nearly unbearable to read, but those 150 odd pages tell a supremely compelling story. For that one section, I'd say Brava, Ms Picoult.

Sadly, even Minka's story cannot save The Storyteller from my 2-star shelf. What should have been about Josef and Minka focused too much on Sage and Leo.

Profile Image for Crumb.
189 reviews539 followers
April 1, 2018
The Weapons an author has at her disposal are flawed. There are words that feel shapeless and overused. Love, for example. I could write the word love a thousand times and it would mean a thousand different things to different readers.
What is the point of trying to put down on paper emotions that are too complex, too huge, too overwhelming to be confined by an alphabet?
Love isn't the only word that fails.
Hate does, too.
And hope. Oh, yes, hope.
So you see, this is why I never told my story.
If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn't, you will never understand.

Gosh, this book.. THIS BOOK! It was the ruination of me in a thousand, soul-shattering ways. It made me feel things as a reader that I didn't know I was even capable of feeling. This is one of those books that seeps into your bones and slowly settles itself into your soul; leaving a permanent imprint upon your heart.

Yet, as the above passage from the book describes, some ideas and emotions simply cannot be put into words. I feel that this book is one of them. It was an extraordinary feat, accomplished by Jodi Picoult. Her talent is put on full blast in this novel. I am eternally grateful that my dear friend pressed this book into my hands and said, "you simply must read this." Words.. cannot convey the feelings I had upon turning the last page. Nor are they adequate in describing the gratitude I felt for my friend that shared this masterpiece with me.
I hope I did this novel justice through my review.
Profile Image for Caitlin.
337 reviews66 followers
June 15, 2013
This book was ok. I have read pretty much everything Picoult has written, and I'm also a massive history buff, so I looked to this book with very high hopes.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this book - for reasons outlined by many of the other reviewers on this site. So for something a little different, I thought I would provide a few suggestions I would have made if I was Picoult's editor.

This is because I've started to notice in the last few books there are gaping continuity errors that reveal bigger editing problems. This isn't surprising - as Picoult releases a book a year on a specific date, and this deadline must be met, and who would argue with a best-selling author?

Things I would say if I was Picoult's editor:

1. Go read Markus Zusack's "The Book Thief."

The Holocaust is a social scar that can go some way to healing, but should not be allowed to be covered up like Minka's long sleeves. But Holocaust stories need to either be meticulously researched (or you get people complaining about historical errors) or it has to be absolutely emotionally honest, which is why I suggest Zusack.

This is because he is able to communicate the fear, uncertainty, moral reactions and other emotions his characters feel going through the events of the Second World War - but the key difference is that he does this by showing, not telling, the reader what his characters are feeling.

It's actually quite common in your work to read passages where characters just tell the reader what they feel - rather than allowing the reader to interpret this through other means. Trust the reader, they're smart.

2. Characters are very important

Don't even get me started on the name choices and awful character quirks (a guy who speaks solely in Haiku unimpeded by having to mentally count syllables or a fist to the face? Please.)

Many of the characters needed more to them. This is something that kind of underpins a lot of my other suggestions - but for example, if Leo had experienced the effects of bullying (either victim, witness or perpetrator - at school or at home) this would have been a lot more engaging and explained his choice of career. Why would a nun leave a convent and then start a bakery?

Nobody should be an "extra" - and while you don't need to have a total backstory for every single character, even the more central characters need more meat on their bones.

3. When you start something, keep it going or just save it for another story

There are a lot of ideas and plot opportunities go nowhere. Two examples are the grief counseling support group and the "Jesus loaf" that attracts thousands of pilgrims to the bakery. They just sort of....stop. Right at the very end Sage says something to the effect of "Oh, the therapy group, remember, I used to do that. I haven't been for a while, but despite the possibility of self-harm nobody's thought to check up on me."

I assumed these would play a much bigger role in the story, but obviously not.

4. Sage's sisters - Rosemary and Thyme. Sorry, Salt n Pepper. What? Xanthum Gum and Baking Soda?

Again, apart from the ridiculousness of the names, you have to either make them go the full Regan and Goneral - there was the perfect opportunity for them to openly and loudly reminisce about their parents' funeral later in the book - or make them more forgiving towards the end.

Instead, you tell us they're mean and blame Sage for their parents' death - but once they find out she has a man, she's suddenly okay with them (and with you it seems. Because grief, moral quandaries and self-consciousness about facial scars are suddenly fine with some good old horizontal work.)

5. Religious faith is more than eating some things and doing certain stuff when someone dies

Religion is present throughout this story, but faith is noticeably absent. How would a teenage girl, incarcerated and facing death because of the world has turned against her religious faith, make peace with a God and a society that put her in this situation?

6. Out of the rich smorgasbord of European and Jewish mythologies including death eaters, Golems, soul stealers and shape-shifters, you had to go the full Twilight with the Ania and Alecks story, didn't you?

This is not the story a 1930/40s teenager facing the total and complete end of the world would write.

This is the story a modern teenager who, like, is totally facing the end of the world because Mom says I'm not allowed to check my status until I've started my homework and she made peanut butter cookies when she knows choc chip are my favourite...would write.

7. Let's just tear up these last five pages, shall we?

In "Keeping Faith" the whole book was driven by the question of whether the little girl really was experiencing messianic abilities (such as stigmata) or if she was faking it all along.

The ending was ambiguous, and it was wonderful. Book clubs all over the world talked late into the night and opened yet another bottle discussing this. It's made people go back and re-read the book. It made the book amazing and memorable.

Likewise, this book was driven by two questions. One was whether Sage would do what Josef asks - and ending on her arrival at his house would have been fine. She has still gone through character development and thoroughly explored the consequences of her actions. It's fine to fade to black there.

The second driving question was how both good and evil could co-exist in the same person. Morally ambiguous characters are interesting and cool - it's why Game of Thrones is so popular. (Well, that and boobs. Lots of boobs.)

So this is not just why the ending made me very disappointed in you, young lady, but it's also why I think some of the other characters didn't feel very realistic. They were too good. Why couldn't Leo do something that would compromise his burgeoning relationship with Sage? Why couldn't Minka do something that would get someone else in trouble in the camp but benefit herself or her friend? What if Minka's father had done something bad?

And this would incorporate the concept of the "Storyteller" into the book more thoroughly - the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions. What stories does Sage tell herself to make it okay to knowingly sleep with a married man? What stories does Minka tell herself to assuage some of the guilt of being the survivor?

So there you are, Jodi, take those suggestions away and work on your manuscript - it should turn out much better now....
Profile Image for Carol.
835 reviews500 followers
April 19, 2013
Jodi Picoult is one of my adopted authors. This means I enjoy her books and want to share them with others so I donate the cost of each to our library. I get to read the book first, allowing the library, the community and myself to reap the benefits. It's definitely a win-win deal.

I have not loved all of Picoult's books but have always respected the determination and marketing savvy she has shown since she began her career. So what did I think of her latest?

The Storyteller is told in much the same way as many of Picoult's stories, using narrator viewpoint to lay it out. Sometimes this works for me and sometimes not. This time her formula worked and I was thoroughly engrossed from page one right through to the end.

The Storyteller is one of those books that is extremely hard to talk about without spoilers. This alone makes it a good pick for book discussions. Picoult has taken what could have been one amongst the many holocaust fiction historicals and made it her own. She did borrow from other works to put moral issues under the microscope, most notably, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal, in which a Nazi soldier seeks forgiveness. Sage Singer grandmother, Minka, is a holocaust survivor though Sage knows little of her story. When Sage grieves the loss of her mother in a bereavement group she meets and becomes friends with an elderly man with his own deep secrets. He asks Sage to kill him but only after she forgives him for something he will reveal. Though a primary theme twists love, hate, and forgiveness every which way, there are other stories to hear. Somehow Picoult manages to even weave in a vampire tale and make it meaningful.

I have not enjoyed a book by Picoult as much as this in some time. The Storyteller reminds me why I started following her career to begin with. She has such a way with words taking the ordinary and making them sing.

The one thing I wish she wouldn't do, she did and this takes some of my pleasure away. I can't tell you what as it is one of those spoilers. I hope Jodi Picoult decides to write more in the historical fiction genre rather than "pulled from the headlines" as I think she shines here.

I've read some great reviews of this book. Read a few more and see what you think.
Profile Image for Tim Null.
132 reviews78 followers
July 2, 2023
Over the years, I've heard many people ask the rhetorical question, how did Hitler happen and could such an atrocity happen here and now? Since Trump has happened, people no longer ask if it could happen here, they ask how can we stop it from happening here? As for questions regarding how Hitler happened and what effects did that have on people, no one has answered those questions better than Jodi Picoult has in her novel The Storyteller.

In The Storyteller, Picoult states, "You would think bearing witness to something like this would make a difference, and yet this isn't so. In the newspapers, I have read about history repeating itself in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan. Truth is so much harder than fiction." However, I know of no one who has come closer to this particular truth than Picoult did in The Storyteller. Let's hope we can prevent history from repeating itself here and now.

Here are some other quotes from The Storyteller:

"'Religion has nothing to do with morality,' she says. 'You can do the right thing and not believe in God at all.'"

"That's why we read fiction, isn't it? To remind us that whatever we suffer, we're not the only one."

"With survival comes sacrifice."

"'I dream,' said a man across the railcar. 'Of doing to them what they have done to us.'"

"'God's not doing anything to us,' Darija said. 'It's the Germans.'"

"To show revenge would show I'm no better."

"I did not believe her. Because this--this camp, this horror--was exactly the sort of stuff no one would ever believe as fact."

"...the funny thing about paint. At the first cold splash of reality, it washes away."

"'Was there something in their upbringing, in their history, in their genetics, that made them the way they are now?' the Hauptscharfuhrer asked. 'Some fatal, hidden flaw?'"

"Having a family means you're never alone."

"'It's missing.'
'Yes, but see how much of me is left.'"

"To show revenge would show I'm no better."
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
November 27, 2018
Over the past year I have made it a point to focus on trimming the books on my to read list, giving me little wiggle room for much else. When a friend on the moderating team of retro chapter chicks here on goodreads mentioned wanted to read The Storyteller to finally get it off of her to read list, I said that I would join her. With family joining me over a holiday weekend, The Storyteller would be a perfect book, one that does not require much attention on my part and would still be enjoyable. What I did not know was that The Storyteller may be chick lit on the surface but multilayered and a book that reads in more than black and white.

Sage Singer is twenty five years old, is in the throes of an affair with a married man, is a master baker, and bares the reminder of her mother's death three years earlier from a scar running up and down her face. Sage thinks she is an ugly duckling, she is an atheist, her sisters Pepper and Saffron blame her for her mother's death, and she took the baking job so that she would be hidden from the small town community in which she lives. Besides the comfort that baking gives her, Sage's only console is in the form of a grief support group that she attends each week. It is there that she meets nonagenarian Josef Weber, who plays the role of her town's favorite grandfather.

In their grieving, Sage and Josef become the least likely of friends. They play chess together on Josef's handcrafted set; Josef falls for Sage's baking and Sage falls for Josef's dog. The two become comfortable enough that Josef entrusts Sage with a secret-- that he is a former SS member of the Nazi party and has been living in hiding for the last seventy years. Because she is a Jew, Josef wants Sage to assist him in dying. To Sage, this is complicated, not just because to her murder means crime and prison time but because her beloved grandmother Minka Lewin is a holocaust survivor. To side with Josef would mean to betray Minka yet to kill a Nazi would mean to obliterate another 'bad guy' from the face of this earth.

True to Picoult's style, she introduces Department of Justice employee Leo Stein, who is Jewish, a Nazi hunter, and also falls in love with Sage baggage in all. Together Sage and Leo get Minka to tell her story, to see if Josef really is who he says he is. Being that Leo hunts Nazis for a living, he brings another perspective that was already beginning to be read in gray rather than black and white. Together with Sage, Leo coaxes Minka to tell her tale in the hopes of bringing one more Nazi to justice. Readers find out that Minka Lewin was a typical teenaged Jewish girl living in Poland. She loved writing and together with her best friend Dariya dreamed of living in London and writing for a magazine. Minka worked after school where she happened to excel at German at her father's bakery where he would bake a special roll just for her that had cinnamon and chocolate inside. Minka uses her father's profession as background to construct a novel about an upior, a Polish mythical creature, that she has yet to complete when the Nazis come to power.

Minka finds herself in Auschwitz. Her knowledge of German land her in choice jobs including as secretary for the treasurer of the camp. We find out that he is actually a good person and had no choice but to serve his country or he would have disappeared. It is Minka's tale that saves her life as this SS officer wills her to write ten more pages a night, as he is captivated by this story. Because of his own love for literature, Minka's life is spared. Yet her story of the baker's daughter, the upior, and people having the potential to love and hate does not have an ending; as a story within a story, the upior's story is not written in black and white and it is up to the reader to create their own ending.

The Storyteller is the second of Jodi Picoult's books that I have read. While not the best of literature, her novels feature multifaceted current events issues that are sure to generate much discussion. In complex characters Sage, Josef, Minka, and to a certain extent, Leo, readers are treated to a complex web of humans and the potential for each person to love and to hate. How they choose to act on these emotions and impulses is up to each person to decide. As with Small Great Things, the other of Picoult's novels that I have read, The Story Teller had not been on my radar prior to reading it, yet I was treated to the type of multilayered novel taking place across two distinct eras that I am apt to enjoy. Perhaps this is a sign that I should not wait for a friend to be reading a Jodi Picoult novel to be moved to read one myself. The Storyteller ended up being a compelling read, and one that I am glad to have joined in on.

4 stars

Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,012 followers
March 17, 2013

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.

*review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.
Profile Image for Jools.
60 reviews13 followers
August 7, 2014
I do not read many of Jodi Picoult's books, mainly because a lot of them do not really appeal to me. I bought this book mainly because of the high ratings it was recieving on here. All i have to say is wow!!! I loved this book, at times i had to put it down to clear my head of the horrors i was reading. No matter how many books i have read, True or fiction based. The story of what happened to the Jews during the holocaust never fails to bring me to tears.Also reading the story from a young German boy's point of view growing up in Germany during war times and the Hitler Youth and becoming a man and SS Officer. I was not suprised by the twist at the end, infact i cottoned on to this quiet early on. Saying this it did not take away anything in the story that was unfolding. This book will stay with me for a while and will recommend it to friends alike.
Profile Image for Colleen.
46 reviews15 followers
May 4, 2013
So, to be honest I have been so inundated with research articles, that my free time reading choices have been, well, light. I have been taking on really easy reads due to the fact that my brain hurts.
I thought, being Jodi Piccoult and all, that this book would fit into that category, however I was pleasantly surprised. This book was not only extremely well written, but thought provoking and moving. I never considered a book that took various perspectives of the Holocaust, well because I only believed there was one perspective that mattered or that was worth discussing.
In this book the main character Sage, whose grandmother is a survivor, is shocked to learn that an older man much respected in the community is/was a Nazi. In her effort to deport and charge Josef, she becomes his confidant as he confesses the sins of his past, and those of his brother. Absolutely worth the read, almost gave it 5 stars...
Profile Image for Danya.
395 reviews56 followers
February 27, 2013

Sage: I actually really disliked Sage in the first part of this book. I'm not sure if this is intentional on the author's part, or if we were supposed to find her character sympathetic, but whatever the case, the result was that I just could not make myself like her. She seemed to me to be very self-effacing, in an artificial 'woe is me' kind of way, from how she felt about her scarred face (which she was really hung up on) to the reasons behind her sleeping with a married man. This latter decision of hers probably lost her the most respect with me, because I can forgive a character a fair number of things, but adultery is something I find it very difficult to get on board with. She knew full well that this guy was married, and yet she carried on this affair with him anyway. I'm sorry, but ugh.

To be fair, Sage does improve in the last third of the book, taking some initiative to make changes in her life, gaining more self-confidence, and earning back some of my respect. Her character development is due in part to what she absorbs from the story her grandmother tells her, as it helps Sage put everything into perspective, but also to the fact that she begins a relationship with another (thankfully, unmarried!) guy. This underlying message of 'you can feel good about yourself once you've got a guy's approval' didn't sit that well with me, though.

Also, I would like to note that although Sage is 25, to me her voice sounded too mature for her age — more like someone in her thirties. Technically since she is in her twenties I'm counting this one as qualifying for the "New Adult" challenge, but I don't think it captures the voice of a 25-year-old very realistically.

Minka: Sage's grandmother, on the other hand, is so much easier to like. Her story, told in Part 2, was probably my favourite section of the book (ironically, since it's the part that deals with all of the atrocities of the Holocaust). Minka is a relatable character you have to feel sorry for, and yet she demonstrates her strength and perseverance time and again.

Josef: I can't really discuss him without spoilers. Suffice it to say that the glimpses we're given indicate that he's a very interesting, complex character, and I wish we'd been able to see more of his perspective.


I suspect one of the author's objectives in writing The Storyteller was to cast light on some of the shades of grey involved in the events and people of the Holocaust. Whether she actually succeeds in this, I'm less certain. I wish Picoult had explored the larger system and the elements of social psychology that shaped and exacerbated the behaviour of the Nazis. Instead, she mostly focuses on a few individuals, reducing it to a question of "Can someone be truly good or truly evil, or is everyone just a mix?" Sure, you can have that conversation all day long, but it's still only looking at the topic through one lens. Since I got my degree in psychology, and took a course in applied social psych, I know that social psychology played a critical role in bringing about the atrocities of the Holocaust. I'm sure it was not the only factor, but let's face it: there were a lot of individuals involved in making sure the "Nazi machine" operated smoothly, and they couldn't all have been sadistic psychopaths. I would have appreciated more exploration of the idea — a fundamental tenet of social psychology theory — that rather than behaviour being attributed to "bad apples" (i.e. "evil" individuals) it can be attributed to "bad barrels" (the environment affecting the individuals). (In terms of the Holocaust specifically, personally I'm inclined to think that there were probably a few apples that had already gone bad, but there was definitely something wrong with the barrels, too.)

This is not to say that Picoult paints all the Germans with the same brush. She takes steps to make sure this is not the case, and the German individuals we are presented with fall in a variety of places on the 'moral spectrum', from the lacking-a-conscience Reiner, to the more ambiguous Franz, to the downright helpful Herr Bauer, Herr Fassbinder, and anonymous farmer's wife. Not all of the Jewish characters are "perfect" either, case in point being Sage herself, of course.

I also thought the author brought up an important point about forgiveness — that it helps the person doing the forgiving more than the one who wants/needs it. Nothing I haven't heard before, but it's still a great point to raise in the context of the story. Whether or not forgiveness is possible from someone you did not directly wrong is also introduced as an interesting discussion.

Ania's story, which appears in excerpts throughout, does a great job of highlighting many of the themes that underlie the novel as a whole. Concepts of brotherhood, friendship, duty, honour, compassion, helplessness, guilt, and shame are presented in a folktale fashion.


I found Part 1 to be rather boring, and you already know how I felt about Sage, so initially The Storyteller and I were off to a pretty slow start. I was a little worried I was going to DNF it, frankly, but then I got to Part 2. I didn't realize The Storyteller was going to go into that much detail about a survivor's Holocaust experience, but Minka's story is one of the most compelling aspects of the book — gripping, intense, horrifying, and engrossing. When Part 3 returned to the modern-day characters and plot, I was initially not that thrilled about it, but I was feeling more invested in the story by this point — and then I guessed the twist and had to keep reading to see if I was right. (I so was.)

If you're finding Part 1 to be slow-going and you're fed up with Sage, I definitely recommend you stick it out until Part 2. I'd also suggest taking breaks with this book. It's hardly a surprise, seeing as this book deals with the Holocaust, but Part 2 in particular is bleak, depressing, and densely packed with information. It's certainly not a quick, easy read. I would like to note, though, that Picoult does an excellent job of integrating all of the information into Minka's personal story. While I think Jodi Picoult did her research about the conditions of the concentration camps, what she presents us with is more than just a set of facts. We come to care about Minka as a person.

Partway through Part 3 I started to suspect what the twist was, but I was kept guessing, never totally sure until the revelation actually occurred. I'm glad what I suspected turned out to be the case, because it nicely ties in the story of the two brothers, Reiner and Franz, as well as the tale involving Ania that is interspersed throughout. It also makes this one of those books where a second read-through might be a different kind of experience, now that you know the twist.

I kind of wish there had been more closure with Josef and Minka, but closure is not always possible in real life. I wasn't really sure how to feel about Sage's ultimate decision (), but it's certainly an interesting choice. The ending seemed a little abrupt to me; I thought more could have been wrapped up, as we don't really know what's going to happen to Sage. Still, it ends a bit unsettlingly (), leaving the reader with some food for thought.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC for review from the publisher.

Note: this is an adult book and there is a lot of mature content.

This book counts towards my goal for the "New Adult" challenge.
Profile Image for Penelope.
9 reviews5 followers
May 19, 2013
I loved the book. As a Jew myself, living in today's world I felt it was important for me to be reminded of this terrible atrocity. I wonder if I could have had the courage to survive and cope with the losses of all my loved ones. This book has given me a renewed sense of the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate and help elevate their suffering, rather than spend time worrying about petty bs. Thank you Jodi Picoult for this empowering shot of reality
Profile Image for Bob.
Author 2 books13 followers
October 30, 2013
Oh dear. A perfectly good idea but, sadly, not realised. I don't know where to start in unravelling what is wrong with this. For starters, too long - main protagonist is annoying to the point of wishing... can't say, too controversial. A chapter in the middle that is a novel in its own right but no-one would ever read (already written, several times) mistakes all over (one glaringly bad one at the end regarding the car) - a twist that was expected from the second it was set up (half way in) and an ending that was stupid beyond description.
I know none of that is constructive or academic in any way but the book just doesn't deserve it. I can only think that Picoult moves so many units that the editors are terrified to tell her the bleeding obvious.
I've had to come back and add more - I've been dwelling on this: I think it is slightly unsavoury to use one of the most devastating horrors in recent memory as a backdrop to a silly love story. It starts with Sage and ends with Sage, so Auschwitz is a bit part? If you're going to use something so emotionally charged, then you have to rise to it - it's not just a cheap ingredient.
Profile Image for Suz.
1,159 reviews603 followers
March 30, 2022
This was huge in all respects. It would have taken me a very long time had I held this book in my hands, but I enjoyed the audio very much. I do speed up the tempo when I listen, but not this time. The content too heavy; this required a lot of focus. That said, I still know I did probably miss some of this as it was so hefty with many strands and threads.

I found the blurb led me to believe the story would focus mostly on a young woman, aptly named Sage, a baker from a Jewish family who happens to be an atheist. She has a scarred face and tries to always hide this scar, behind her hair, behind her night shift hours. This physical mark runs so much deeper.

Sage’s grandmother survived the holocaust, and time at Auschwitz. Sage has befriended an elderly gentleman, Josef, with obvious ties to this time. Minka is her grandma, and we hear from her, from childhood, happy family times and then from there to where things go so terribly wrong. She is a writer and the quality of her craft is remarkable, and her story so heartbreaking. Her handwritten journal, the power of the written word and of story is so important to this book.

Jodi Picoult is quite simply masterfully skilled at what she does, and her story taught me so much about this period. I felt it was a life lesson, not simply a history lesson. It also made me incredibly sad to think I know people in the real world that deny this period in history.

Sage learns so much about her grandmother, she ponders on forgiveness and what this means. This was very heavy, Sage was conflicted given the ties her family have to the Holocaust, and now with this new connection with a man in his nineties.

Her personal life is in tatters, she feels unworthy in every fibre of her being. She hides from life working in an amazing bakery, aptly named “Our Daily Bread’, in the night hours, making the traditional Jewish treats and staples made by her family in prior generations. This was such a beautiful part of the book; I loved the amazing imagery about the dough, the process the importance to the culture. The author has done remarkably well with all this information. I wanted to be there in the bakery, watching and even to try and make it myself.

Sage is involved with a married man; she thinks she does not deserve more than this. She has suffered trauma but is not showy about this, and hides it from all.

There are so many parts to this book; I have not mentioned Leo, a Jewish Department of Justice employee who ends up working beside Sage in investigating Josef.

Faith and forgiveness, atrocities, and love. It’s all here. A lot to keep up with, but worth it in the end. The author’s insights on these themes are amazing, the writing process must have been a labour of love and very confronting – as was the read.

*Addendum, 31/03/2022. I don't mean to make this long review, even longer, but I found some notes I made on this story in my desk last night. As it was an audio read, I often slow it down and write things down. This is what I found: "That day as we passed, a new group of prisoners was being belched out of one of the cars... carrying their belongings yelling out names of loved ones."
Profile Image for Kelly.
3,127 reviews31 followers
March 15, 2013
Spoiler alert:
If you read my reviews, then you know I'm a Jodi fan because I like her characters, controversial plots, and varied narrative techniques. At first, I was frustrated that Jodi chose to write a story on a topic that has been told so many times before (and with so many fiction and nonfiction books on the Holocaust, people will invariably compare this book to these others). I taught Wiesel's Night for 15 years and have read so many Holocaust books, that I fretted about this book when I first started reading it. I admit that I was uptight about the long passage Minka narrated of her experience in the Holocaust, but once I let go of my reservations, I found myself enthralled by the story (despite having read this Holocaust plot many times before). and Minka's story is what saves her granddaughter from her self inflicted isolation, guilt, and anger. What makes this story fresh is Minka's supernatural tale of vampires (and not your Twilight vampires but grossly horrific monsters who devour humans). Minka's story is a contrived metaphor for Franz's life, but it works (especially with the final words he utters), so I am not bothered by this at all. I guessed the twist in the story long before it occurred, but this still did not ruin the story for me. The ending of this book reminds me of Jodi's Tenth Circle in that the book ends with the reader knowing that there is much more to be resolved (and we must determine what that resolution is). She mimics MInka's ending to her vampire story in this way. I loved how the bread making was an intrinsic part of the story and not just an occupation for some of the characters.
Profile Image for Karina.
851 reviews
June 4, 2020
When I think of Jodi Picoult I think of a hit or miss author. I have liked some books and others I felt were a waste of time but this one was very very good. I couldn't rate it 5 stars for the fact that she got repetitive and the story wouldn't move on in some spots but overall it was dark, sad but enjoyable.

A baker, Sage, meets an old German man, Josef Weber, to find out he worked at Auschwitz during WWII and he isn't Josef Weber at all. They get to know one another but he has requested she do something for him that she could regret all her life. She feels it is the right thing to do but wouldn't that be as bad as the Germans killing Jews, taking a life?

I liked how Picoult mixed Judaism and Christianity as a way to help Sage through her difficulties in her life. It is a beautiful mix of 2 religions that want a form of community and see the common good through actions.

While she is Jewish by birth she does not consider herself a Jew or anything at that. Through an agent of the Department of Justice they coax her grandmother to tell her story of youth and the horrors she experienced in her life. This was the best part of the whole book. Her story was vivid and I was lost in it. It was tragic and well told.

I kept comparing it to 'The Nightingale' by Kristin Hannah and while it wasn't up to her par this one held up quite nicely on its own. 'The Storyteller' is great for WWII or historical fiction fans.

"This Anus Mundi," I say. "I've never heard of it."
Josef laughed. "That was just a nickname. You speak some Latin, yes? It means 'Asshole of the World.' But you," he said. "You probably know it as Auschwitz." (pg. 167)
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,134 followers
May 4, 2013
The Storyteller is a very compelling Novel from Jodi Picoult and it’s a story about redemption and forgiveness.

I had been giving Picoult Novels a wide breath over the past few years as I had felt her books were beginning to take on a pattern which I grew tired of quite quickly.
When I discovered that Jodie Picoult was going to take on a difficult and sensitive subject like the Holocaust I really wanted to read this novel. I appreciate how difficult it must be for a writer to write a fictional account of such a important and sensitive time in history and am sure they wrestle with keeping actual events and facts in prospective and still provide a plot that is entertaining and interesting for the reader. I think Jodi Picoult manages to achieve a good balance in her latest novel.

Sage Singer is a young woman and a baker in a small New Hampshire town and is hiding from the world due to a difficult past when she strikes and unlikely friendship with Josef Weber, a quiet respected and retired teacher and a pillar of the community. Joseph singles Sage out as he has a secret that he has been hiding for 60 years and he tells her his story.

The title for this Novel is very apt as there are several story tellers in this book and each with an important tale to tell. One of the stories that really made an impression on me was the Gothic-style tale penned by Minka as I really felt that this tale parallels very well with the horrors of the camps and the monsters that ran them.

This is well written and well researched Novel from Jodi Picoult. I especially think this book will appeal to readers who want a good story and not overwhelmed by dates and facts. An easy read and an interesting story
Profile Image for Amy.
90 reviews7 followers
July 4, 2013
I have to say that I was seriously disappointed by this book. I have only read one other book by Piccoult, Saving Grace, and it was okay. When I read the brief summary of this book, NOWHERE did it mention the Holocaust! When I realized this is what the book was about, I was upset-- to the point that I almost didn't finish reading it. I am not anti-Jewish, anti-Holocaust or anything like that, but I do not want to read books about it. The images and words and descriptions are seared into my memory, and those are not images I want to recall. In this aspect, Piccoult, was very thorough. I am also upset by the ending. How could she commit murder? In truth, that is what she did. She killed another person. And then she lied to the person who cares about her. She looked him in the eye and flat out lied. Did she learn nothing from what she went through? Did she learn nothing about forgiveness and love and honesty? I just find the ending too contrived and doesn't show any change in Sage. She slept with a married man. She killed a man after refusing to forgive him. She lied to her boyfriend. She still has messed up relationships with her family and her dead mother. How did anything really get resolved-- other than she learned her Grandmother's story and killed a man??? GRRRRRRR. Based on this book, I really do not think that I will ever read another Piccoult book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books1,044 followers
January 1, 2020
When I saw this was a Kindle Unlimited book, I was so excited to have a Jodi Picoult novel I downloaded it without reading anything about it. Picoult is always a great writer—that part I remembered—but what I forgot is that she writes complex characters and situations that make you wonder what you’d do if you were facing this dilemma.

Sage Singer is a baker who has scars inside and out. She believes she’s unattractive since the car accident left a few visible lines on her face. She hides out from people working night shifts as a baker. The only social life she has at all is going to a grief group because she’s still mourning the death of her mother.

Another member of the group is a German man in his nineties named Josef. He hangs out at the bakery where she works with his little dog Eva. He’d been with his wife for fifty-one years and now has no one but Eva. Sage, who is twenty-five, and Josef become friends. Sage was born Jewish, but doesn’t identify with any faith. Josef admits to her that he was an SS officer during World War II overseeing the concentration camps that Sage’s grandmother barely survived and refuses to talk about.

I loved this book in every way.

(It also made me both wish I lived close to a bakery to have fresh bread and grateful that I don’t lest I gain so much weight I’d have to struggle to fit into my clothes more than I already do.)
Profile Image for ✿Sandra.
298 reviews
August 25, 2013
I would give this 4 1/2 stars. This book had me thinking on so many different levels that it's hard for me to sum up my thoughts in a review. This quote sums up a lot of what this book had me thinking about - "not all Jews were victims and not all Germans were murderers." Reading Minka's story of the Holocaust really dives into that statement.

A quote from the book, "I do believe in people. In their strength to help each other, and to thrive in spite of the odds." Reading this book made me wonder if I would have been able to survive those terrible times. I can't imagine having your family members ripped away from you and then to try and carry on day-to-day under normal circumstances let alone horrific ones.

Forgiveness is also a big theme in this book. Another quote, "He doesn't deserve your love. But he does deserve your forgiveness, because otherwise he will grow like a weed in your heart until it's choked and overrun." If people that did horrible things during the Holocaust later turned their lives around and tried to do good, did they deserve to be forgiven, or should they have been condemned for the rest of their lives?
Profile Image for Jayne.
571 reviews263 followers
September 24, 2022
There were three stories being told in "The Storyteller".

The two main storylines were much, much better than the third story.

1) The first story was about Sage Singer, a physically and emotionally scarred bakery worker.

Sage was a self-proclaimed atheist whose grandmother was a concentration camp survivor.

Sage meets 95-year-old Josef Weber, a beloved Little League coach, retired school teacher, and former Nazi SS officer. Josef Weber wants Sage to help him commit suicide.

MORAL DILEMMA: A Nazi wants to die at the hands of the granddaughter of one of his victims. Should Sage help Josef end his life?

2) The second story that unfolds is the backstory of Sage's grandmother Minke, an aspiring author. Minke's experiences in several concentration camps are detailed, along with the devastating loss of her family members.

Minke's story was horrific and riveting.

3) The reading of a fable/vampire story, written by Minke many years ago.

This was a very, very long book (an 18-hour audiobook!) and I just did not "get" why the author included the vampire story in random sections of the book. It detracted from the compelling story that Jodi Picoult was painstakingly trying to tell.

I don't like vampire stories and would not have selected this book had I known it featured a vampire storyline.

I listened to the audio version and the narration was superb. I always love it when a publisher has multiple narrators and this book was no exception.

For over twenty years, I had been a huge Jodi Picoult fan. Unfortunately, her most recent books have not been 5-star reads for me.

I used to feel that nobody could tell a story like Jodi Picoult and I truly miss the days when Picoult's impossible-to-put-down novels stayed with me for days, weeks, months, and years.
Profile Image for Reca.
574 reviews26 followers
February 14, 2013
Wow. For me, a sign of a really great book is one you can remember the characters days, months and even years later. This book was riveting while going from the present and spending a good part of the book back in the 1940s from the point of view of a Holocaust survivor. No matter how horrifying this was, I couldn't stop reading. It may be one of the big reasons I can't get this book out of my mind or it may be the O M G twist at the end. I admit I was as blindsides as I was with My Sister's Keeper. This book is definitely a must read!
Profile Image for Chantal.
579 reviews390 followers
December 27, 2022
I really liked this story, a classic Auschwitz tale with a modern twist to it. The modern retelling really made this book and gave that inside look from a descendant's side as well as the side of a German.
Profile Image for Gemma.
71 reviews20 followers
November 1, 2017
If this novel was a building it’d be an eyesore – there are turrets, clunky outbuildings and an almost complete disregard for symmetry. Stylistically it’s all over the place too. One minute it’s pure chick lit with a self-pitying heroine who’s “hot” but believes herself ugly because of scars received in a car accident; then it’s fantasy with an italicised story about a kind of vampire/werewolf wreaking havoc on a small town; then it’s a mystery/detective novel with a Nazi hunter and an old man who might or might not have been a sadistic SS officer in a former life and finally it’s a kind of paint by numbers version of the Holocaust. At one point Sage, the main character, asks herself if the former Nazi might not simply be regurgitating horrors he had read about. I’m afraid this is what I felt the whole time about this book. I never once believed her characters had experienced what they told me they had experienced. I couldn’t suspend disbelief. At all times I was aware of the writer and her research as a buffer between me and the narrative. Writers who tackle the Holocaust tend to receive rapturous applause as if they’re performing a noble and heroic purpose. It’s probably worth remembering they’re also often making an awful lot of money.
Profile Image for Crystal Craig.
250 reviews591 followers
November 10, 2021
Be sure to visit my Favorites Shelf for the books I found most entertaining.

The Storyteller is my second Jodi Picoult book. And, I must say it will be hard to better it or even match it. My attention grabbed right from page one, and my mind didn't wander once while reading. I don't know what to say other than this book was fantastic.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,097 reviews7 followers
December 10, 2014
The last Jodi Picoult I read was House Rules, many years ago, and it has been my favourite until now. I LOVED this book – it evoked so many emotions in me. It was such an amazing and daring subject matter, an old Natzi SS officer at Auschwitz seeking out a young Jewish woman for assisted suicide and forgiveness.

Another thing I forgot about Picoult books is the astounding amount of research that goes into her books – specifically in this case the “other” side of the story – how a seemingly normal German boy gets sucked into becoming one of Hitler’s death machines.

But it also touches on loyalty and the breaking point this can reach. I really enjoyed all the different stories (that are full and complete on their own) that interweaves throughout. This is a love story, historical fiction, horrendous accounts during the holocaust and dealing with grief and guilt in so many forms.
Profile Image for Karen J.
242 reviews186 followers
July 2, 2023

Jodi Picoult has never disappointed me always a wonderful book reading experience.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
895 reviews305 followers
November 27, 2022
What a great work of fiction, thanks to a great research done by the author.
This was my second book by this author (my first was Mad Honey, recent released, which she co-wrote with Jennifer Boylan, which made me wonder what have I been missing).
The writing is excellent.
It grabbed me from the beginning and I didn’t want to put the book down.
The storyline was heartbreaking, as expected when it comes to the Holocaust.
The book is divided into separated POV, Sage, the main character in the current time, Minka, a Holocaust survivor, Leo, a Nazi hunter, and Josef, a 95 years old man and a former SS officer dealing with his guilt.
The development of the story was skillfully executed.
The details were vivid, painful and believable.
The conclusion was not a surprise for me, but I’m sure that it was for many readers.
Someone recommended this book to me.
It was a tough read, as expected for such topic, but I’m grateful for the recommendation.
Now I can hardly wait to read another work by this author.

PS. I also listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Narrated by Mozhan Marno, Jennifer Ikeda, Edoardo Ballerini, Suzanne Toren, and Fred Berman. They all did a good job, but some influenced negatively on my opinion about a couple of characters, so I can’t recommend the audiobook.
Profile Image for Suzzie.
917 reviews161 followers
December 19, 2017
Devastatingly good. Jodi Picoult weaves some amazing stories and like so many of her other books, this one will break your heart. I was completely engaged all day in this book and though some of it was predictable, I did not expect a lot of it.

Trigger: this story does center around the Holocaust so it could be difficult for many to read.
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