I enjoy reading Jodi Picoult’s books, for here is an author who understands that human beings are not two dimensional, simple beings but multi-dimensional, complex beings, capable of good and bad, love and hate, fear and courage. The Storyteller was no exception to this and is a story that will haunt me for a long time. But I found the ending disturbing, but not surprising. Yes, the Jodi Picoult twist was there, although by halfway through the book, I had wondered about the identity of Josef Weber, the elderly German teacher who had befriended Sage Singer, a young woman in her twenties grappling with grief for her mother and disfigurement. Twisting through the narrative was a gothic horror story that would have given Mary Shelly a run for her money. A story of an upior, a vampire, or to be more accurate, two brothers who were vampires, monsters in the world and a young woman, who is a baker, Ania. And running behind the story is the story of Minka, surviving against the odds, a survivor of the holocaust. It is also a story of two brothers, Reiner and Franz who are absorbed by the Nazi machine and become SS officers assigned to Aushwitz.
The ending. Earlier in the book, Sage reads Minka’s book, the story of the upior. Sage writes of her grandmother “It is, as if she knew, even at that young age, that you cannot separate good and evil cleanly, that they are conjoined twins sharing a single heart”. Minka survives, the only member of her family to do so, she survives the Lodz Ghetto, Aushwitz and Belsen and she survives with her humanity intact. Josef Weber also survives, an SS Officer, who takes on a new identity and so escapes justice. Josef becomes a new creation, and at the end we realise that Josef Weber has become an amalgam of himself and his brother, both SS officers. Reiner/Franz survive by becoming indispensable pegs in the Nazi war machine and both subordinate their humanity, to do anything else would mean death. Of the two, Reiner is more of a monster, yet Franz, who in a different world, would have been a mild mannered academic, similar to Josef Weber, becomes almost as monstrous as his brother. Good and evil, conjoined twins sharing a single heart. And how easy it is to move from one to the other if survival is at stake. The question has to be answered for Josef Weber, was he seeking redemption and forgiveness for what he and his brother did so many years ago.
Sage, the granddaughter, acts instinctively, and then realises that the situation at the end was not all that is seems. And so, the conclusion of the book is a blank page, similar to the ending of Minka’s fable, there is no happy ending. Just another page to be turned.
The book is well written. But the ending is disturbing. Possibly, because there is no redemption and no forgiveness. The ending does not bring closure.