This is an interesting story about the generation of Germans who came along immediately after World War 2 and how they dealt with the sins of their parents and the guilt of their nation. The Nazi crimes are personalized in the character of Hannah, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s when she rescues 15-year-old narrator Michael from his vomit on the sidewalk.
Michael and Hannah become lovers, and he becomes obsessed with her. Then she disappears from his life, only to resurface when he’s in college. But now she’s on trial for her crimes as a Nazi guard.
The second half of the novel deals mostly with Michael’s feelings of guilt following Hannah’s disappearance. He is unable to have a successful relationship with another woman. He devotes his professional life to legal history, focusing mostly on the Third Reich. He discovers Hannah’s great secret while she is on trial, but withholds the information, which only adds to his guilt.
The first part of the book was well paced and engaging, but once Hannah flees and the narrator takes to wallowing in his guilt, the story bogs down a great deal. There are still highlights as information is discovered and some decisions are made, but there are simply too many rhetorical questions left hanging.
The end, however, is heartbreaking, and will make you question whether you should feel such emotion. For that and the beginning I almost gave the book four stars, but in the end I had to go with only a respectable three stars.
As a side note, I have to wonder how much my enjoyment and this review were influenced by the audio. The narrator of the English translation gave the prose a distant, detached tone that really bothered me during the second half of the story.