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. Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Picoult (Change of Heart) reconfigures themes from her other bestsellers for her uneven new morality tale. Twenty-five-year-old reclusive baker Sage Singer befriends the elderly Josef Weber, who shares something shocking from his past and asks her to help him die, a request that pins Sage between morality and retribution. Sage, a Jew who now considers herself an atheist, begins to think more deeply about faith. Picoult examines the links between family identity, religion, humanity, and how it all figures in difficult decisions. The three-parter is narrated by several characters, including Sage’s grandmother Minka, who survived the Holocaust. Snippets of a novel Minka wrote focus on a bloodthirsty beast, a metaphor for life in a death camp. Picoult’s formulaic approach to Minka’s accounts of the Holocaust is a cheap shot, but the author appreciates Sage’s moral bind. Nearly half of the book is devoted to a verbose, sad recounting of Minka’s time during the war, but the real conflict lies within Sage. That conflict, and the complexity of a character who discovers herself through the trials of Josef and Minka, is the book’s saving grace. Agent: Laura Gross, the Laura Gross Literary Agency. (Mar.)
The past can always find you
Jodi Picoult, in her 19 previous provocative, plot-driven novels, has tackled a broad spectrum of timely social issues—from child abuse and capital punishment to organ donation and Asperger’s syndrome.
In The Storyteller, her latest, she weaves together two parallel stories from the darkest hours of the Holocaust. The link between these two stories is Sage Singer, a young, non-practicing Jewish woman in a small New Hampshire town. Sage is a loner—her father died suddenly when she was 19, her mother succumbed to cancer three years later, and she sustained significant facial scarring in an auto accident. Single, and a talented baker, she works the night shift at a local boutique bakery.
Sage’s grandmother, Minka, lives at an assisted living facility nearby. Though they are close, Minka has never shared the story of her childhood in Poland—even when Sage asked about the numbers tattooed on her grandmother’s forearm.
Sage attends a weekly grief support group, and she bonds with the newest member, Josef Weber, a 90-year-old widower. Josef is beloved in town as a teacher, coach and volunteer. But one day he unexpectedly confesses that he was an SS officer at Auschwitz, and that he now wants to die—and would like Sage to help him do so. Sage is stunned, but after a long discussion of his involvement in the Hitler Youth movement, and subsequent advancement to the SS, she begins to believe him. At the same time, she finally convinces Minka that it is time to tell her story of her life in Poland, and the horrors she faced—first in the Ghetto, then in two concentration camps before being rescued from Auschwitz in 1945.
Picoult deftly juxtaposes these two stories, which unfold along parallel lines: that of the German boy, “raised with scruples,” who by some “toxic cocktail of cells and schooling” became a participant in mass genocide; and her own grandmother’s harrowing memories of family members dying from starvation, and her tenuous survival in the camps, where “death had become part of the landscape.” She explores, along with the reader, the perhaps unanswerable questions of who has the power to forgive—and are there some acts which are simply unforgiveable?
The Storyteller is another thought-provoking novel from Picoult. Sadly, it is also one that is still timely, as episodes of genocide still occur today, and are somehow still ignored.