Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller

Sage, a woman in her mid 20’s, is an orphan; both of her parents passed away within three years of each other. Even though Sage still has two living sisters, Pepper and Saffron, the only family member whom she is close with is her grandmother, a survivor of the Holocaust. Sage works overnights in a bakery. Her best friend Mary, a former nun, is the owner of the bakery. The only other relationship she has, other than Mary and her grandmother, is one with a married man.

One night, while working at the bakery, Sage befriends a man name Josef, he also happens to be a member of a grief support group she attends. Josef comes into the bakery every day and shares a roll with his little dachshund, Eva; he carries a notebook with him, which he often writes in. Sage and Josef become fast friends. Shortly after meeting, Josef feels as if he can share a big secret with her: a secret that breaks Sage’s heart and brings more anger into her life than she ever thought possible.  Josef asks Sage to help him do something that he has wanted to do for a long time, and also asks for her forgiveness. Sage is torn between not only her own moral beliefs, but also the beliefs of her family.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult is told through the eyes of many characters; it also has many stories within the novel, besides Sage’s present day life. I have read quite a few books about the Holocaust and this one has been, by far, one of the hardest to take in. At first I was struggling to get through the pages because I felt like the story wasn’t going anywhere; I felt this way about the first 200 pages. As soon as the thoughts and words of Sage’s grandmother, Minka, started flooding the pages, I was hooked and I couldn’t put it down. I was consumed by Minka’s horrific stories; I felt like I was at the table listening with Sage and Leo. The picture Minka painted was so real and so vivid that I couldn’t stop imagining the SS Officers torturing people during WWII, day in and day out. Minka lived a life full of despair, losing almost everyone and everything she ever loved, but she did not give up, and she did not let anyone take away the one thing she had control of, her life.

Sage had always wondered what had happened to her grandmother during the Holocaust but was always too afraid to ask. Sometimes, when a difficult situation arises, secrets have to been uncovered, whether we want them to be or not. Minka lived her whole life hiding her past, hiding her scars, to protect the ones she loved. She didn’t want to burden anyone with her story; she kept it tightly tucked in her mind, hoping that it never had to be revealed. Now, her story unfolds, as if it happened yesterday.

Potential spoiler (skip these next two paragraphs if you don’t want to know too much): Minka is a writer, a storyteller; she wrote a story while she was growing up, before and during the war. The story weaves fantasy and reality together, making it difficult to tell the difference between the two. This story has helped her through good times, and bad. The story that Minka wrote is my favorite part of the novel. At first, I didn’t understand who wrote it, why it was written, or what it was doing sporadically placed throughout the book. After it was explained, every part of the story became clearer to me, more intimate; Minka was showing her soul through her words.

I loved the relationship that is formed between Sage and Leo. Sage has secrets of her own, which is why she works nights and sleeps during the day. Leo helps her overcome her fears, accept what has happened in her life, and learn to love herself. Sage and Leo are a great example of love at first sight, which is ironic because Sage doesn’t believe that anyone could love her by looking at her.

The baking parts of the story made me want to become a baker, or go back to America and eat some Panera Bread. My mouth was watering reading about all the amazing breads Sage made, as well as the breads her great grandfather made before and during the war. I started to salivate for the heart shaped bread filled with cinnamon and chocolate that Minka’s father made for her every day for an after school snack.

Jodi Picoult’s books are always hit or miss for me:  I either love them or hate them. With The Storyteller, I loved the book, but I wish there wasn’t a story to be told about the Holocaust, meaning I just wish it never happened. I would recommend this book to anyone, male or female, interested in learning more about what happened in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Often, while reading, tears formed in my eyes, but as it was said many times throughout the novel, these stories have to be told to help prevent it from happening again.

A BIG thanks to my friend Kathleen for going to the Free Library of Philadelphia and getting a signed copy of The Storyteller for me. I had the pleasure of meeting Jodi Picoult at a book signing there two years ago when Lone Wolf came out, another Jodi Picoult novel that I really enjoyed.

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