The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

A quick rundown… Sage, a solitary baker, is asked to help an elderly man end his life. Can she do it? Can she forgive his past?

Strengths:  Best Jodi Picoult I’ve read – the historical scenes set in WWII Poland are incredibly moving.

Weaknesses: Sage and Minka’s stories feel a little separate the way they are positioned within the book.

Why I read it: Sent to me by Allen and Unwin and The Reading Room – thank you!

Pages: 463 (ARC)

Published: 2013

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Setting: Poland and America

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

I finished this book a couple of days ago, but I’m only sitting down now to write my review because I’ve been busy. So what else is new, you might ask? Well, I’ve actually been busy recommending this book to all and sundry – work colleagues, people at the library, people in bookshops and family. We all know that a new Jodi Picoult book is good, but The Storyteller is fantastic. Edge of your seat, crying, gaspingly fantastic. You don’t want to miss this one.

The Storyteller starts off innocently enough with Sage Singer (yes, she does have a sister called Pepper), a baker who prefers to work alone at night after an accident left her scarred and feeling guilty. She’s in a going-nowhere relationship with a married man and her only confidante is her boss and former nun. Her colleague only speaks in Haikus. So when she strikes up a friendship with elderly Josef Weber, it’s a little strange. But she and Josef get along well until he asks her a favour – to kill him. Josef’s reasoning Is that he was a Nazi SS soldier in Auschwitz during World War II and doesn’t deserve to live. But he also wants Sage’s forgiveness.

Sage’s grandmother, Minka, was a prisoner at Auschwitz – something Josef doesn’t know. She has never wanted to talk about her ordeal and hides her tattooed number under shirts and jumpers. So when Sage gets the government involved to bring Josef to justice, Minka tells her story. This is where the most powerful part of the book comes. Minka’s story as a Jewish girl growing up in Poland, forced into the ghetto and then to Auschwitz is incredibly well researched, emotive and humbling reading. Picoult makes the whole thing come to life, and although it can be uncomfortable at times, it is very powerful. It was almost a letdown when the story returned to present day and Sage as the main character.

It is also during Minka’s story that we find out what the snippets of story about Ania (a girl with some similarities to Minka) and her adventures with an upior (a kind of vampire like creature). The story was written by Minka, first as a carefree student and then continued in Auschwitz. We learn that this story has links with Minka’s fate.

Like any Jodi Picoult book, there is a big twist and shock at the end. As I was reading an ARC, I honestly thought that there was a mistake because the characters hadn’t worked out the glaring inconsistency with only a few pages to go! Fortunately, the conclusion I’d leapt to turn out to be true but the question that had been asked about forgiveness (Who can give it? If it didn’t happen to you personally, can you still forgive? Can you redeem yourself after the event?) is left up to the reader to ponder over.

I would say this is easily the best Jodi Picoult book since My Sister’s Keeper – actually, better. This is haunting, interesting and full of emotion. I’d love to see her try her hand at historical fiction; Minka’s story proves she has the talent.

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21 thoughts on “The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

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  1. Thanks for this review! I have read almost all Picoult’s book (except this one, and Songs of the Humpback Whale) and i’ve found them becoming a bit boring and predictable. Did you find that with this book?

    1. No, this is more of an original storyline and I felt the strength was in Minka’s story in the concentration camps. Sage is a little bit annoying at times, but Minka is fantastic. That’s the best part for me.

    2. I agree, I’ve stopped buying them as I felt they were falling into bit of a set pattern. This sounds good though and like she’s moving in a different direction. All the reviews are amazing.

  2. I read all Picoult so will certainly be reading this one but your review has made me very excited (am so jealous of you getting an ARC!), especially as My Sister’s Keeper is one of my favourites by Picoult.

    Plus I’m liking the war element, completely my type of book.

  3. The only Picoult I have read is My Sister’s Keeper. I am interested in the setting of this one and I was glad to see that you enjoyed it so much. Perhaps it is time for me to give this author another go.

  4. I always find Picoult’s writing absorbing, but somehow her novels always drain me. I’ve just finished House Rules, an incredible story of a boy with autism being tried for murder. She makes me so sympathetic for her characters. After some time passes I may pick this one up, especially as you enjoyed it so much.

  5. I’ve enjoyed most all of Picoult’s previous books, and am about 3/4 through with the audio version. I am not enjoying this one liked I hoped I would. I’m finding Sage flat and annoying and don’t think another Nazi story is what I need right now.

    Glad u liked it though, maybe it’s me?

    1. Sage is a bit of a cliche. I think the power of Minka’s part helped me to overlook Sage’s flaws and also her baking – I spent a bit of time looking up bread recipes!

      I don’t think it’s you – I haven’t read all of Picoult’s previous books so perhaps the novelty hasn’t worn off for me yet!

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