What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? How do you live with it? What does it take to forgive? Be forgiven? The novel, according to Jodi Picoult’s “Acknowledgments,” was inspired by Simon Weinsenthal’s The Sunflower. While in a Nazi concentration camp, Weinsenthal was brought to the deathbed of an SS soldier who wanted to confess to and be forgiven by a Jew. Such is the level of conflict and moral agony Picoult tackles and carries through to its ultimate end.
We know little of why Sage, physically and emotionally disfigured, seeks therapy in a grief group and we learn her story in bits and pieces as we read. We do know that, alienated from her family, she feel unforgivable. But when fellow grief group member, Josef Weber asks her to help him die because she is a Jew, she becomes an agent, or potential agent, in the far more brutal and harrowing story of Nazi death camps.
The interlinked stories of Sage, Weber, Sage’s grandmother, Minka, a Holocaust survivor, and a werewolf tale, initially of unknown authorship, compel us onward and carry us deep into the questions above. Good and evil are inextricably confounded, and the decisions demanded of the characters tear at the soul. For Sage, however, as for the reader, the stories illuminate not death, but survival and forgiveness.
Jodi Picoult has, at times, disappointed me, though never in the topics she explores. The Storyteller, however, absorbs and compels to the end. A remarkable accomplishment. It is a must read.