Review – The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

By | March 2, 2013

I do need to declare the fact that I’m not an entirely impartial reviewer of Jodi Picoult’s books. After discovering My Sister’s Keeper through Richard and Judy’s Book Club back in 2005, I tracked down all her back catalogue way before UK publication, and I’m always first in line for her new books. But I really didn’t like Lone Wolf half as much as others, and I approached this one with some trepidation – might I have gone off a previous favourite?  The answer is a resounding no – this book was absolutely magnificent, and it was so good to find it such a departure from the usual moral dilemma followed by court case. 

Published in the UK in March by Hodder & Stoughton, the core of the book is the Holocaust, and its raw power is quite breathtaking.  We start with the story of Sage Springer – facially scarred and a bit of a loner, she works as a night time baker for an ex-nun cafe owner, is involved in a dead end affair with a married man, and her only other social contact comes through her attendance at a grief counselling group. Her relationships with her Jewish family are fractured, other that with her grandmother Minka, who is a holocaust survivor but has never told Sage her story.

At the group she meets Josef, equally lonely other than his dog, an man in his 90s who has lived an unexceptional life within his community. These two outsiders become friends, until Josef reveals that he was a former officer with the SS, working in the concentration groups and responsible for a large number of Jewish deaths, and needs Sage’s help to die.  Sage can’t live with the knowledge, and contacts the Department of Justice about Josef’s confession, and is initially disbelieved as one of many crank calls. But something about her conviction hooks in Leo Stein from the DoJ, and they work together to try and establish Josef’s true identity and the extent of his guilt. Grandmother Minka – who spent time at Auschwitz – might just be in a position to provide that proof.

The core of the book is Minka’s previously untold story, a vividly told and harrowing account of her wartime experience, moving from a carefree childhood with her baker father and family, through her time in the ghetto, and on to her experiences in the concentration camps. Jodi Picoult’s meticulous research is evident throughout – stories of this horrific time are many, but I’ve rarely experienced it in such multi-sensory detail.  Much of it is very difficult to read, and by the end I really felt I’d lived through it – many scenes will stay long in the memory, together with the moral complexity of the captors.

Throughout runs the thread of a dark fairy tale, filled with its own horror, and it becomes clear that the telling of this story is what sustains Minka throughout her ordeal and ensures her survival.

At the Sing You Home tour

The last section of the book returns to Sage, Leo and Josef with their efforts to link Josef with Minka’s SS captors and the moral issues about forgiveness. The end is appropriate and thoroughly satisfying, with that characteristic twist we’ve come to expect.

The subject of this book is harrowing, but the story is so well told that I have to say I absolutely loved it.  I felt like I’d been through a wringer when I’d finished, but wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. This book moves Jodi Picoult’s writing into a whole new league, and I’d recommend it most highly. 

6 thoughts on “Review – The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

  1. Anne

    I think this is one of her very very best novels Annie. A brave subject to cover, but she has done it so well. Really pleased that you enjoyed it too. Where on earth can she go next?

  2. Joan Hill

    Fabulous review Anne – can't wait to read this one. However does she come up with such brilliant ideas year on year? I'd really love a chat with this author. She's is my favourite of them all!

  3. Marie Monaghan

    I still haven't read any Jodi Picoult but got one in the book dip at the RiSi meet so will give it a go soon. This sounds like a really interesting story, if a bit harrowing.

  4. Anne Williams

    Thanks for your comments ladies – Joan and Marie, hope you'll love it as much as I did.

  5. Anne Williams

    She's coming up my way too Lainy, but it's a bit too close to my holidays. Saw her on her Sing You Home tour though, and she's a really interesting speaker…

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