Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

The StorytellerThe Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Storyteller is a wonderful book, one of the most powerful novels I've read in a long time. It is a story within a story within a story. The way the three plots affect each other, while remaining strong enough to stand on their own, is amazing.

The first plot is about Sage Singer, a woman in her twenties, who has lost her mother in an auto accident. Sage was driving the car and has to deal with the guilt that comes with surviving. (Something that becomes more important as the rest of the story unfurls.) Sage was left with a facial scar that she dwells on because it symbolizes what she's been through. She feels as if everyone thinks she is ugly, but the people around her don't act as if they do. She also feels that the people who loved her mother, her grandmother and her sisters in particular, hate her for what has happened. But they also don't act as if they do.

Sage Singer meets an elderly man, a German, at her grief group. He asks her for two favors, powerful favors, that propel Sage forward in a way she never imagined would be her fate in life. His requests lead her to a conversation with her grandmother. Sage's grandmother, whom she calls Nana, is a survivor of Auschwitz. Nana has spent her life in America trying to forget her life in Poland. There is a parallel to Sage's survivor's guilt that isn't emphasized but is an important part of the book.

In a unique and beautiful way, Jodi Picoult has tied all three stories together with the work of baking bread. The acts of breaking bread together or of preparing a special baked treat for someone you love are used over and over throughout the story. Sage is not the first baker in her family. Her grandmother's father also made his living as a baker. Sage's sisters are named Pepper and Saffron, indicating how important spice was to her mother.

Late in the book Sage is sitting in a temple, taken there by Leo, a man she is working with. Sage is an atheist, but with a Jewish heritage. Although she hasn't spent much time in synagogs, she is affected by the place and the people there. Here are some of her thoughts:

I don't believe in God, but sitting there, in a room full of those who feel otherwise, I realize that I do believe in people, in their strength to help each other and to thrive in spite of the odds....I believe that having something to hope for, even if it is just a better tomorrow, is the most powerful drug on this planet.

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