Storytellers have a gift. A gifted storyteller weaves her tale of life and issues and conundrums through characters with whom we can relate. At the end of the story we’ve not only learned something about an issue, but we’ve gained some insight about ourselves.
Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller and I think she achieves her goal to get her reader to think about big issues and the conundrums that go along with them in her latest bestseller, The Storyteller. She tackles the big issue of good and evil against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Can you participate in something really horrific and still wipe away the stain? If you consider yourself a good person, what would tip you over to doing something bad? What does it mean to be a non-practicing religious person in making moral decisions? To what lengths will we go for self-preservation? And forgiveness; is it our responsibility or moral obligation to forgive? Can we forgive?
Storytelling is the compelling mechanism of the many storytellers in this book. Minka’s fictional story is woven among her real story and serves as a touchstone of hope as she and her family suffer through the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent imprisonment at Auschwitz. She is the lone survivor of her family and friends.
Sage’s, Minka’s granddaughter, story becomes intertwined with Josef, a former-German officer at Auschwitz. Josef’s story gradually unfolds and we discover the shared threads of lives across generations and cultures. The lurking question always remains: What would I do when asked?
The Storyteller is a work of fiction, but that only intensifies the real story upon which this story is based. We think of the Holocaust as a Jewish issue and part of Jewish history, but it’s really a human rights issue. Six million Jews were exterminated, but five million non-Jews also perished. It’s part of our shared human history. We have to ask ourselves if we’ve really learned anything since the Holocaust since genocide is still happening and we still continue to turn a blind eye as millions of people are displaced and murdered.
Interestingly, I am writing this blog post on January 27, 2014. It is the 69th anniversary since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army.
Fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Secrets, lies, stories. We all tell them. Sometimes, because we hope to entertain. Sometimes, because we need to distract.
And sometimes, because we have to. ~ Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller