Culture Street

Books

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

On April 29, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Jodi Picoult is known for selecting provocative subject matter and turning it into a bestseller. Often her novels centre around harrowing topics and her latest The Storyteller is no exception.

25-year-old Sage Singer works as a baker at night where she is assured of total privacy. She does not have to converse with customers or chat with colleagues. On her own she bakes bread, using recipes passed down to her through the generations. Scarred by previous tragedy her preference is to keep her own company.

Unexpectedly she finds herself drawn to an elderly gentleman who comes into Our Daily Bread (the bakery) in the mornings. She begins to strike up easy conversation with him, enjoying his company. 95-year-old Josef is a fixture in the local community. He is a retired teacher and Little League coach, admired by many for his contribution to the community.

It comes as a shock to Sage when Josef reveals his true identity and in doing so asks her to kill him as punishment for his crimes. He just requires her to do one thing before she kills him, to forgive him for his past. Sage has to grapple with her moral and ethical conscience. She turns over his details to the Department of Justice in an attempt to administer justice. But what is just when faced with a frail 95-year-old man who, despite his last seventy years, has a harrowing and murderous past?

There is one connection between Sage and Josef, one that is unknown to Josef; Sage’s beloved grandmother Minka was in Auschwitz. Through Minka, Picoult tells of a terrible and terrifying journey that led to Minka’s incarceration in Auschwitz.

Sage now knows both stories and must decide how best to proceed with her knowledge. As more is revealed of her grandmother’s past so Sage begins to see her own life clearly. She reflects on the decisions she has made and the things she must do to right some of her wrongs.

Picoult has used devices she is well known for, telling the story from the perspective of different characters. Interspersed between the contemporary story of Sage’s life and the story of the Holocaust is a vampire story that Minka pens whilst in Auschwitz, meant as an allegory to the suffering that Minka and her fellow prisoners endured at the hands of SS officers.

Picoult is an expert at posing questions in her books. The Storyteller is all about justice and forgiveness. Would you forgive such harrowing crimes against humanity? This is the ultimate question at the core of her book. A riveting read.

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