Is it better to ask for permission or beg for forgiveness? It’s likely a question you’ve heard before, and it’s a question that Jodi Picoult explores with her 2013 book The Storyteller.
In this story, Picoult brings together a 95-year-old Nazi SS officer and a 25-year-old descendent of a concentration camp survivor. In fact, Josef Weber just happened to be one of the commanding officers in the camp where Sage Singer’s grandmother lived.
Now, 70 years after the fact, Josef is begging forgiveness from Sage as he attempts to right the wrongs he’s done throughout his life. In that way, Picoult explores the question of forgiveness in depth.
After speaking to her grandmother, who survived the concentration camp and is still alive, Sage has to decide whether she’s capable of forgiving the horrific atrocities Josef committed, and even more, she has to figure out whether forgiveness is even hers to give. In that way, Josef is begging for forgiveness after the fact, and he’s not quite sure he’ll get it before he dies.
Along the way, Picoult writes about two fascinating stories out forth by Sage’s grandmother. In one story, Sage’s grandmother tells the fictional allegorical tale of a vampire who struggles against his condition, attempts to save his brother, and begs for forgiveness from the woman he loves. This tale is weaved in with Sage’s grandmother’s tale of her time at the concentration camp (also fictional, but “true” for the purposes of Picoult’s story).
The way the two stories play off one another is absolutely fascinating, and this entire section was compelling enough to stand alone as it’s own book. Coupled with the additional information from Sage and Josef, The Storyteller far and away becomes one of my favorite Picoult novels to date. And trust me, I don’t love (or even like) them all.
In the end, Sage finds herself seeking assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice, since she just doesn’t know what to do with the information she’s been given. The DOJ promises to build a case against and prosecute Josef, but another twist throws their plans off track and makes it more difficult for the case to go through. The ending of the book was a little difficult for me, but I’m not quite sure how Picoult could have ended it differently and given closure to both the reader and Sage. In that regard, the ending was understandable.
I really enjoyed The Storyteller by Picoult. With this one, she forces the reader to think and put themselves in Sage’s shoes and contemplate what she would do in the same situation.