I've been a fan of Jodi Picoult's ever since I discovered her books whilst on holiday in the US a number of years ago. Since then I've managed to work my through her back catalogue so I was very excited to receive a proof copy of her latest book The Storyteller from her publishers Hodder & Stoughton.
Sage Singer leads a solitary existence following a car crash a couple of years ago in which her mother died and left her visibly scarred. Working nights in a local bakery her only contact with people are with her boss Mary at the bakery, her visits to her grandmother Minka, her liasions with her married boyfriend Adam and the people she meets at her grief counselling group.
It's at the counselling group that she meets an extremely private old gentleman Josef Weber who doesn't interact with the group despite coming to the sessions, so it's a surprise to Sage that Josef eventually reaches out to Sage and asks her to help him to die. But why does he want to die and why choose her?
He tells Sage that he wants forgiveness for the things he did during World War II, things he has never spoken up about until now. Hearing his story forces her to look into her own family's history as her grandmother Minka was a survivor of the death camps at Auschwitz although this is not something she has ever spoken about.
The narrative of the book is told from the points of view of different characters: Sage, Josef, Minka as well as Leo, someone who enters Sage's life later on in the story, so we get to see things from different perspectives. It was particularly hard to read Minka's story describing everything that she, her family and friends, especially best friend Darija, endured during the war especially at the prison camps.
Once again Jodi Picoult is not afraid to confront such a controversial topic as war atrocities head on having previously tackled topics such as gay rights and school shootings. I have to confess I was excited and scared to read this book in equal measures as I've loved almost all of her previous books but was worried about how harrowing a read it might be for delving into what had happened in the concentration camps. As a child, whilst living in Germany, we visited Bergen-Belsen but I was a bit too young to take in everything I was seeing and understand what exactly had been done to the prisoners there, it was only as an adult visiting Auschwitz that I was able to comprehend the enormity of what had happened but it was still extremely distressing trying to understand how human beings could do these inspeakable acts to other human beings.
If there's one book that you should read this year then I would recommend The Storyteller. Although this is a work of fiction it's also a reminder of the atrocities that should never be forgotten about. It's a shocking, emotional read but one that I'm definitely glad that I did read and one that has stayed with me long after finishing reading it.