- Who do you think 'the reader' of the title is, or can it be applied to more than one character? At what point was it apparent to you that Hanna was illiterate? What is the importance of literacy in the book?
- How would you describe the tone and style of Bernhard Schlink's writing in part one of the book? How does it differ from the second and third parts? What effect does this difference achieve?
- The relationship between Hanna and Michael begins with an act of kindness on her part but we later learn of her involvement in the concentration camps. Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out that she was a camp guard? On pages 131-132, Michael suggests reasons why Hanna became a guard and for her selection of girls to read to her. How convincing are his arguments? How can we explain why ordinary people commit atrocities without resorting to calling them monsters?
- Why does Michael find it so difficult to make his relationship with women work? How does the affair with Hanna affect him as an adolescent?
- On page 133, Michael says 'And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of loving one'. Michael did not know of Hanna's crime during their affair so why does he feel guilty? How do other characters of his generation appear to feel about the Holocaust? What about his father's generation?
- On page 146-147, Michael refers to the many images that have been produced of the camps, particularly in films. Is there a danger that the continued exposure of Holocaust images lessens their impact until they become frozen into cliches as Michael suggests? How do you feel about the images of war which are recorded in the newspapers and on television?
- Is Hanna a scapegoat just for her co-defendants or in a more general way? When she turns to the judge and asks him what he would have done in her position (page 110), what does his answer imply? Could the judge be considered as guilty as Hanna if he knew about the camps but did nothing?
- Why do you think Hanna does what she does at the end of the novel? How do you think learning to read might have changed her view of what she had done in the camps?
- Does the novel answer the question posed on page 102: 'What should our second generation have done, what should it do with the knowledge of the horrors of the extermination of the Jews?' What do you think the answer might be or is it an unanswerable question?
- Does the novel give any grounds for hopes of forgiveness, and if so what are they?