My father trusted me with the details of his death. ‘Ania,’ he would say, ‘no whiskey at my funeral. I want the finest blackberry wine. I don’t want a summer funeral, Ania,’ he would say. ‘Make sure instead I die on a cool day, when there’s a nice breeze.’ I would pretend to take note of his requests. I didn’t mind the macabre conversation; my father was far too strong for me to believe any of these requests of his would ever come to pass. My father trusted me with the details of his death… but in the end, I was too late.
I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller. All I can say is it’s been long, it’s been very long, since I’ve last read such a good book. You know how some books become your bestest friends when you’re reading them? Those books where you carry around with you everywhere you go, even if it’s just having a little dinner with your family outside, because you would want to read it whenever it’s possible. Those books where you can just slip into the character’s worlds so easily because you feel a connection to them? Those books where you just can’t stop reading?
And when you finally finish the book, it’s as if your bestest friend is gone. It’s as if a part of you has been torn apart, and there’s an empty hole in your heart. You would have to go by days before you pick up another book again, because you’re still trapped in the world of the previous story you’ve just read.
Yes, The Storyteller was like that for me.
It follows the story of Sage Singer, of Minka and of Josef Weber. Josef Weber has committed a murder, and he wishes to seek forgiveness for Sage. But, it’s not just any murder. It’s a murder that was apalling, that was horrible, that was condemned, that made you question if humanity still exists.
The World War 2 Jewish genocide.
Minka was a Jewish survivor and the story that Jodi Picoult weaved was just so realistic and horrible yet so amazing at the same time. It broke my heart to learn how the Jewish were really treated. Truth is, Jodi Picoult weaved Minka’s story based on experiences told by real Jewish survivors who got through the Holocaust. Therefore, technically, Minka’s story was not purely fictitious. It was real, it happened. And I was just speechless. I learnt so much from Minka’s experience. I was both amazed and horrified. Amazed because not all SS soldiers are heartless and cruel and inhumane. Amazed because despite the horrific treatments, the Jews helped one another. Horrified because I would not be able to understand how the victims survived, how the victims felt. They were stripped of their self-respect, of their dignity and of their reputation, reduced to animals and worthless creatures. Minka said that she has never tried to tell anybody about her story, nor write it out because sometimes, words are not enough to describe how you really feel. The words that portray your emotions would not bring justice to your feelings, because they are too overwhelming, because they are too powerful to be confined within alphabets. And I think that’s how it is for me too when I read about Minka’s experience. I don’t think I can ever describe how I felt when I was reading through Minka’s experiences. It’s that powerful.
The main psychological dilemma that was recurrent in the book was the belief that when you do something so horrible and repulsive for many times, you stop feeling, you stop thinking it’s bad. You make up an excuse for yourself to get through it. You do it so many times that you start to believe it’s actually ohkay to do it. You start to think it’s not wrong.
And Sage Singer, she’s a flawed character. Sometimes I detest how she feels so sorry for herself, that she thinks she doesn’t deserve love, actual love, because of her scar. How she pushes people away. How she wallows in self-pity makes me want to scream at her sometimes to just get up and start living life. To stop being so anti-social and for once, to be proud of herself for what and who she really is. Yes she has a scar, but think about what is there of her that’s left? And then she met Leo, and for once, she is able to see herself through the eyes of how her best friend and the people who love her see her. Most importantly, she is able to do what she feels is right for her.
This book is truly an incredible read and I enjoyed every single moment devouring its pages because it has taught me so much. It has taught me about hope, sorrow, love, loss, sacrifice, betrayal and most importantly, forgiveness.
Oh and I love the name Minka so much, that I might just name my future daughter that.
“You will ask me, after this, why I didn’t tell you this before. It is because I know how powerful a story can be. It can change the course of history. It can save a life. But it can also be a sinkhole, a quicksand in which you become struck, unable to write yourself free.
You would think bearing witness to something like this would make a difference, and yet this isn’t so. In the newspapers I have read about history repeating itself in Cambodia. Rwanda. Sudan.
Truth is so much harder than fiction. Some survivors want to speak only of what happened. They go to schools and museums and temples and give talks. It’s the way they can make sense of it, I suppose. I’ve heard them say they feel it is their responsibility, maybe even the reason they lived.
My husband – your grandfather – used to say, Minka, you were a writer. Imagine the story you could tell.
But it is exactly because I was a writer that I could never do it.
The weapons an author has at her disposal are flawed. There are words that feel shapeless and overused. Love, for example. I could write the word love a thousand times and it would mean a thousand different things to different readers.
What is the point of trying to put down on paper emotions that are too complex, too huge, too overwhelming to be confined by an alphabet?
Love isn’t the only word that fails.
Hate does, too.
And hope. Oh yes, hope.
SO you see, this is why I never told my story.
If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn’t, you will never understand.”
In literature, I learnt a technique where authors sometimes use. It’s when the authors use the voice of their characters to directly communicate to us. The author is just merely using the character as an avenue, as an outlet, to speak to us, readers directly.
I liked to think that at this part, the part which is my favourite, Jodi Picoult is doing the same thing. She’s using Minka to say what she really feels.
Afterall, Minka and Jodi Picoult are the same afterall. They are both writers and dreamers.