Danya's Reviews > The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2013-releases, adult, books-i-own, new-adult, na-challenge-2013

Characters:

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.

Premise/themes:

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.

Plot:

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 ((view spoiler)), 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 ((view spoiler)), 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.
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Reading Progress

January 3, 2013 – Shelved
January 3, 2013 – Shelved as: 2013-releases
January 3, 2013 – Shelved as: adult
January 27, 2013 – Shelved as: books-i-own
Started Reading
February 1, 2013 – Finished Reading
February 26, 2013 – Shelved as: new-adult
February 26, 2013 – Shelved as: na-challenge-2013

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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Tina I just finished the book and your review is spot on! Sage has few endearing qualities. Minka's story is riveting. The twist is predictable but I didn't care. The end was abrupt.


Danya Tina wrote: "I just finished the book and your review is spot on! Sage has few endearing qualities. Minka's story is riveting. The twist is predictable but I didn't care. The end was abrupt."

Thanks very much! I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one who found Sage pretty unlikeable. Loved Minka's story though :)


Barbara I think this is intentional, so the contrast betweenSage's victim persona and her grandmother's decision to let the past stay in the past is apparent. This is another dimension of forgiveness. Minka could have defined herself as a holocaust survivor, but she chose to move on, as Sage does at the end of the book.


Danya Barbara wrote: "I think this is intentional, so the contrast betweenSage's victim persona and her grandmother's decision to let the past stay in the past is apparent. This is another dimension of forgiveness. Mi..."

Interesting insights - thanks for sharing! :)


Sherri I agree with you. On my progress report, I noted that I was really turned off by Sage's self-pity. I don't think it added to the story or even added much contrast with Minka. Like you, I loved Minka's story and I was totally not prepared for that ending.


Danya Sherri aka SDMomChef wrote: "I agree with you. On my progress report, I noted that I was really turned off by Sage's self-pity. I don't think it added to the story or even added much contrast with Minka. Like you, I loved Mi..."

Yeah, Sage's self-pity definitely made it harder for me to like her - so glad that Minka was very different! I was really absorbed in her story, and I thought the twist with the ending (even though I guessed it!) made perfect sense.


Kirstenrose75 Fully agree with this review as well! I think one of my favourite parts of this book is the allegory of Minka's story tying in with what defines a hero/monster, good/evil etc.etc. Like you too I guessed the plot twist, I pay attention to details in the book which why I got it ;) but I think that I like you, enjoyed that, "yes I was right" feeling at the end.


ChiaYi I thought the ending was intentionally ended like this, with no extra explanation.
Maybe just like how Ania's story ended..

Just my thoughts.


Danya Kirstenrose75 wrote: "Fully agree with this review as well! I think one of my favourite parts of this book is the allegory of Minka's story tying in with what defines a hero/monster, good/evil etc.etc. Like you too I gu..."

Yes, the way the story served as an allegory and tied into a lot of the overarching themes was really neat. And I also appreciated the plot twist even though I was able to guess it - I thought it made sense and I was glad that the story didn't end up being as straight-forward as it seemed.


Danya ChiaYi wrote: "I thought the ending was intentionally ended like this, with no extra explanation.
Maybe just like how Ania's story ended..

Just my thoughts."


Thanks for your thoughts! It's entirely possible the author intended to make a point or have a certain impact by ending it as she did. Personally, I just tend to like a little more resolution with my stories :)


Alicia Cayab In the opposite, I actually like Sage better than Minka. Maybe it's because I liked Sage first. I don't know, I'm still having mixed feelings about this since I just finished it like 20 minutes ago. :-) I agree. Sage's ultimate decision wasn't really explained to me fairly. I mean why go to the trouble of calling the DoJ just to kill him yourself in the end? Though I do admit that call had a certain good outcome i.e. Leo Stein. I kinda wished also that the story of Ania wasn't open-ended.


Wendy Anderson Came to comment that my thoughts were the same as this review. Very slow start and almost quite reading it, but I knew Jodi would not disappoint! Once I got into Part 2 I couldn't put the book down!


Danya Alicia wrote: "In the opposite, I actually like Sage better than Minka. Maybe it's because I liked Sage first. I don't know, I'm still having mixed feelings about this since I just finished it like 20 minutes ago..."

Interesting that you liked Sage better! I too wish there had been a little more explanation of her decision, or at least that we were shown more of her thoughts/feelings surrounding the choice she makes. Thanks for sharing your perspective!


Danya Wendy wrote: "Came to comment that my thoughts were the same as this review. Very slow start and almost quite reading it, but I knew Jodi would not disappoint! Once I got into Part 2 I couldn't put the book down!"

Yes, I agree, the start sure was slow! Part 1 had me thinking I might not get through the whole book. But like you once I reached Part 2 I became a whole lot more invested in the story :)


Wendy I can't agree more about Sage. I almost stopped reading because of her character. Part 2 was the best part of the book. Not the story being told but the way it was told. This was not one of my favorites of Jodi's but I still look forward to her books.


Danya Wendy wrote: "I can't agree more about Sage. I almost stopped reading because of her character. Part 2 was the best part of the book. Not the story being told but the way it was told. This was not one of my favo..."

Yeah, this isn't my favourite Picoult read either, although I did think Part 2 was quite well-written. Perhaps Sage's character was portrayed that way deliberately, but it did mean that as a reader I had difficulty sympathizing with her (and it looks like I wasn't the only one!)


Nancy Interesting. I am still reading part 2 but I found part 1 very interesting and part 2 is a bit slow for me. Can't wait to get to part 3!


Valerie Roller hmm Sage... I have mixed feelings on this character. She has experienced a great deal of trauma as a very young adult. As someone who has also experienced a great amount of loss as a young adult, I can honestly say I don't relate well to most 25 year olds. Most of my friends are older than me. I think that's why Sage sounds "older". Loss ages you (it aged me, anyway). Now that said, her self-hatred was hard to get through. I'm glad she was on the road to recovery and healing by the end of the novel. I don't think she was healed because of Leo (as one reader suggested). I think she met him and was able to form a relationship with him because she started to see herself as someone who deserved more than a married m an who would never commit.

Minia: adored her. Enough said. I'm sure most people will.

Josef: whoa. How do I talk about. this without giving everything away?! His character and story was well-written. I was satisifed with how his story played out. I hope Sage takes good care of Eva.

I read this book in two sittings. Jodi Picoult books are either something I love or hate. I think this book is one of her best. I like that Ania's story reflected Minka's life story. I like that it never ended and could have several different endings.


Sylvia Epstein I totally agree. In the first quarter of the book, I was so apathetic towards the the character, Sage, that I actually considered not reading on... Thank goodness I decided to stay focused. I am halfway through it and am loving every minute. The research is excellent and the writing is superb. As a child of Holocaust survivors, i needed to read about how evil eventaully takes away the souls of its vicitims...the Nazis...I thought each character was well developed and feelings were described with remarkable
skill. I highly recommend this book!


Danya Nancy wrote: "Interesting. I am still reading part 2 but I found part 1 very interesting and part 2 is a bit slow for me. Can't wait to get to part 3!"

Thanks for sharing your reaction so far! I'd be interested to hear what you thought of it overall, once you're finished :)


Danya Valerie wrote: "hmm Sage... I have mixed feelings on this character. She has experienced a great deal of trauma as a very young adult. As someone who has also experienced a great amount of loss as a young adult, I..."

Lots of food for thought in your comment – thanks! You raise a good point about the trauma in Sage's past, and how that may have aged her.

Also, yes, Josef certainly was a fascinating character, wasn't he?!


Danya Sylvia wrote: "I totally agree. In the first quarter of the book, I was so apathetic towards the the character, Sage, that I actually considered not reading on... Thank goodness I decided to stay focused. I am ..."

Glad to hear you're enjoying it now that you're on to Part 2! I hope it continues to impress you :)


Kelli I agree with your review. I found the first part of the book to be extremely slow moving and boring. It picked up in part 2 and I couldn't put it down until I had finished Minka's story.


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