The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Best Book 2013 copySTORYTELLER

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (462 pgs)
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Thistledown

Some stories live forever . . .

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.

Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?

Some books stay with you long after you turn the last page. The Storyteller is one of those books.

An epic read that spans both the present and the past, The Storyteller is a myriad tapestry of forgiveness, betrayal, family, murder and the power of love. Sage, the central character is a wounded soul who works in a bakery to hide herself from the harsh eyes of the world. Her face is scarred by an automobile accident that claimed the life of her mother. She feels the weight of it every time she looks in the mirror, and uses it to make some rather questionable decisions. Through her job, she meets an elderly man Josef, who frequents the bakery, with his little dog Eva. They both attend a group for people dealing with grief and it is through their unlikely friendship that a request will be made that will change both of their lives forever.

Josef is a man with a past, but on the outside, looks like any other older man in the twilight of his life. When conversations reveal her Jewish heritage, Josef makes a request that Sage kill him because of sins he committed in the past. Thus begins a journey of guilt, redemption, The Holocaust and the true meaning of forgiveness; or not.

It is also a story of love and baking and I can totally identify with that. Love for me has always been linked with food. In this tale, it is the tempting aroma of baking bread and all the generations of bakers in Sage and Minka’s family that bring the story to life in a very tangible way. Baking bread is an art and a science. What most people don’t know is that it can also be a love letter or a gift that can kill.

As The Storyteller moves along, we meet each of the characters involved as they each tell their stories. Sage, the young baker with scars across her face and soul, Josef the possible Nazi war criminal, Minka Sage’s grandmother and Holocaust survivor, Leo the Department of Justice investigator into war crimes and finally Ania, the character in a story that was written by Minka. All of these points of view weave together to craft an unforgettable tale that literally had me running to my work breaks and staying up late into the night, crying at the depths of emotion this book brought out in me. The events of the Holocaust were so evil and so reprehensible I felt literally sick at some points. In others, I felt the supreme love and majesty of a people so bonded in family and love that it gave me faith in humanity once again. Ms. Picoult tells a story like no other and I believe this is her finest work to date. At the conclusion of the book, she lists reference resources for those who are curious about the book and where she got her information.

Some central themes that rampage through the book are family, morality, mercy, the power of fear, people’s willingness to believe anything if it helps them and ultimately what the true power of forgiveness is about. What if someone asked you to kill them for their sins? Would you even consider it? If you did, how awful would those sins have to be? As Sage learns more about Josef and who he really was and how it all weaves together with her grandmother’s time at Auschwitz I got chills. These are people you grow to love like your own family. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does and with each affront to humanity, your heart breaks for those that lost their lives to the gas chambers and bullets in a time of unnecessary violence.

The chapters done with each different perspective really worked. I got to see all aspects of the story and wasn’t limited by, say, Sage’s point of view. It was an effective way to show all sides, even the reasoning for Josef’s actions as makes a conscious decision to become a monster. Everything can be justified, given the right circumstances. This is a ribbon of thought that runs through the book and honestly, it really made me think. What if it was you? What if you lived in this time and had to encounter either side of the coin? Holocaust victim or perpetrator? What if you had to become a monster just to survive, like the character in Minka’s tale? This book reverberated deep down and made me think about events in my own life that required forgiveness and how hate can indeed bloom out of one’s heart like a thorny branch and quickly take over if you don’t give it up to someplace higher, no matter what your religious convictions. It has been three days since I finished reading The Storyteller, but the voices of Sage, Minka, Josef, Ania and Leo still echo in my head. Now if you will excuse me, I think I need to see about a loaf of bread I just put in the oven.

Any time I want to read something that stirs the soul, I will be going back to The Storyteller. It is an epic journey of healing, destruction and the mysteries of the heart.


  1. Astilbe says:

    I read this book recently. You’re right, the food descriptions are delicious!

  2. I loved this book! It opened up a new world for me, a new slant on a tired subject. I loved the characters. I loved the layers. I loved the descriptions. It was a compelling and wonderful read.

  3. Danielle James says:

    I read this book last year and loved every page! This book transports you to another time, one which I hope we never see or hear of again. The story touched me in a way that lasted long after the final page.

    Jodi Piclout sensitively writes about the horror of the atrocities, the shame of Josef and the need for forgiveness and repentance.

    I shall return again and again to this book. A must read for anyone!

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