Book Club Discussion: The Storyteller By Jodi Picoult & An Elegant Solution By Anne Atkins

Posted at 09:25am on 20th September 2019

Talk about being a lousy leader!

'We might find Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller a lighter summer read, rather than the one I first suggested,' I wrote to my Book Club.

That email was closely followed by another saying, 'Oh, no! Perhaps not. Some of the reviews say it is quite harrowing. So perhaps we'd better stick with the Anne Atkins book, An Elegant Solution after all.'

By this time I had purchased both. But when I received a response from one member of the group saying she was reading Jodi Picoult's book, I assumed that this was the choice of one and all.

I'll read both, I thought, but failed to do so when a crisis occurred, that looked like a scam in which we would have lost a considerable sum of money. Fortunately, one member had, like me, read The Storyteller.


Midst much laughter, we began the meeting by hearing from those who had read Anne Atkins' book. It seemed that I was right, and that it was not an easy read. Too many characters, with too little information about which was narrating the story at any one time, said various members of the group. Which was exactly what the two of us who had read Jodi Picoult's book had found. What is it about modern fiction, we all wondered, that made authors jump around from one to another with insufficient identifying of characters via dialogue or description.

With Anne Atkins having a real-life autistic son named Theo, it seemed that her book might be based on truth, though with vendettas, attempted drownings and bombs to contend with, that didn't really seem possible. What the readers did find illuminating about the book was the way in which the autistic mind operates, showing how those suffering with the infirmity are unable to understand other people's emotions, can't tolerate the 'wrong diet', or changes to routine and so on.


I confess I had to download a summary of the book, early on, in order to recognise which of the characters was narrating in first person. Even then, having read it, I still had to refer to it several times throughout.

However, the storyline, though harrowing, was also riveting. Set partly in America post WW2 with flashbacks in Auschwitz, there was so much to learn of the abominations of war and concentration camps. Sage, a young woman in her twenties, is wracked with guilt following the death of her mother in a car accident, when she was driving. Having sustained severe scarring on her face, she tends to hide away thereafter. However, on joining a grief support group, she meets Josef, a man in his nineties and, with both speaking German, the two become good friends.

Despite being of Jewish descent, Sage declares herself an atheist. Josef, meanwhile, reveals that he was a Nazi, and as a member of the SS during the Holocaust, was responsible for numerous Jewish deaths in Auschwitz concentration camp. He asks Sage if she would forgive him on their behalf, and then help him to die. When Leo Stein, an American in the Department of Justice becomes involved, the story evolves from there, with Sage's grandmother, Minka, telling of her experience.

What I found especially appealing about the narrative, were the many profundities; questions we all need to ask ourselves. What follows are paraphrased quotes from the book, which inspired a lively discussion amongst us all.

  • How quickly lies compound, like layers of paint, until you can't recall what you started with.
  • Anti-semitism was alive in Germany before the war. Was this because of Jewish wealth, business success, or their claim to be God's chosen people?
  • How do you pull a divided group together? Give them a common enemy.
  • If you repeat the same action again and again, does it eradicate guilt?
  • Power isn't about doing something terrible to those who are weaker. It's choosing not to.
  • Surely there were some Germans who didn't want to go along with what Hitler said and did?
  • "Some of the women prayed. I saw no point in that since if there was a God he would not have let this happen."
  • You can blame your ugliness for keeping people at bay, when in reality you're crippled by the thought of letting another person close enough to potentially scar you even more deeply.
  • "Leo effortlessly defends me. He knows what will upset me before it even happens, and like a superhero, bends the track of the runaway train before it strikes."
  • Jesus said turn the other cheek, but only if you were the one who was hit. Most Christians incorrectly assume this means that being a good Christian means forgiving all sins, and all sinners.
  • The only person who suffers, when you squirrel away all that hate, is you. But forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself.

I'm still mulling over some of these statements but, as always, meeting friends for a Book Club discussion, was such a pleasure. Until next time . . .

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