The Storyteller is a novel by Jodi Picoult that tells the story of Sage Singer, a woman who has been struggling to make ends meet as a baker.
She takes on a new job as a caregiver for an elderly man named Josef Weber and quickly develops a strong bond with him.
Josef Weber is a Holocaust survivor, and he begins to share his stories with Sage Singer.
As she listens to his stories, she comes to understand the importance of storytelling in shaping our lives and our world.
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About The Author Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard.
The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-seven novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award.
She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.
About The Storyteller
An astonishing novel about redemption and forgiveness from the “amazingly talented writer” and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult. The Storyteller is the twenty-second novel written by the American author, Jodi Picoult.
Some stories live forever…
Bakers are people who work late into the night, creating the day’s breads and pastries in order to flee from a reality of solitude, bad recollections, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When They become friends when he arrives at Sage’s grief support group and they begin stopping by the bakery. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that no one else sees.
On the day that Josef uncovers a long-buried and shameful secret and asks Sage for an out-of-the-norm request, everything changes. She may face not only moral but also legal consequences if she says yes.
Sage begins to question the judgments and preconceptions she’s made about her life and family, as a result of the trustworthiness of her closest friend being jeopardized. Jodi Picoult explores the depths to which we will go in order to prevent the past from defining our future in this beautifully written book.
Title: The Storyteller
Pages: 480 pages
Published: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Appropriate for ages: All ages
The Storyteller is narrated by four characters: Sage, Leo, Josef, and Minka. Each character’s narrative is told using a different font.
Picoult often employs this alternating narrative style throughout her novels, including in, My Sister’s Keeper, House Rules, Change of Heart, Songs of the Humpback Whale, Sing You Home, Handle with Care, and Lone Wolf.
- Sage Singer: The protagonist who (unknowingly) befriends Josef Weber, an ex-Nazi, and eventually agrees to help him die by suicide.
- Josef Weber: An elderly Nazi, who believes that he should die for his crimes and his role in the Holocaust.
- Leo Stein: Works for the Department of Justice and becomes romantically involved with Sage.
- Minka Singer: Sage’s grandmother who is a Holocaust survivor.
- Darija Horowicz: Minka’s best friend who was killed by Reiner Hartmann during the Holocaust.
- Mary D’Angelis: An ex-nun, Sage’s best friend, owner of the bakery where Sage works, and regularly provides Sage with advice.
About Jodi Picoult
The Storyteller – Plot
Sage Singer, a 25-year-old native of Westerbrook, New Hampshire, is a teacher and small business owner. Sage’s mother and father were killed in a car accident when Sage was 17 years old, and she hasn’t been the same since. Sage’s mother was killed in the accident, and she has a large scar across her cheek as a reminder of her guilt.
Sage is self-conscious about her facial scar and hides it by wearing her hair across her face. Sage works at night, alone, as a baker because she thinks she deserves to live a lonely existence. Sage believes that her two sisters, Pepper and Saffron, hold her responsible for their mother’s death, so she avoids any contact with them.
Sage’s closest friend is Mary D’Angelis, an ex-nun who owns Our Daily Bread, the bakery where she works. Sage is in a relationship with the local funeral director, Adam, who is also married. Sage appears to be content with their situation at first because it enables her to live on her own.
Sage is a self-described atheist, her family being extremely Jewish. Sage has recently begun attending a grief group where she meets Josef Weber, an elderly man. As a result of his generosity, Josef is well-known in town for his kindness. He and his wife spent 40 years living in Westerbrook before he lost his spouse.
Many people in the community view Josef as a role model because he was the long-time German teacher at their high school, as well as the baseball coach. Sage learns that Josef was a Nazi commander in the Holocaust and asks him if he wants her to assist him to kill himself.
Sage learns that Josef is a mass murderer who has murdered numerous individuals. He asks her to assist him in committing suicide. Sage is shocked when she learns that one of her friends requested her presence. She immediately calls the local police department and confesses that she has found a Nazi.
Sage is directed to the Department of Justice in the United States, where she encounters Leo Stein, who is in charge of Holocaust-related matters. Leo explains to Sage that proving Josef’s honesty will be difficult and that convicting him for his crimes would be significantly more difficult.
Sage’s tale, however, does not convince Leo that she is telling the truth. He isn’t sure a Nazi would just confess his misdeeds 70 years later.
The attempt to identify Rosemary’s father as “Leo” is ultimately unsuccessful, owing to the fact that there was no SS guard by that name. However, under much persuasion from Sage, Josef confesses his real name was Reiner Hartmann, who was in fact a camp officer at Auschwitz.
Sage is able to acquire little bits of information (photographs, dates, people, places, papers) from Josef and passes it on to Leo. Nevertheless, the reliability of the information provided by Josef was verified, though not enough to establish that Josef is who he claims to be.
In order to show that Josef is Reiner, Sage must obtain knowledge from Josef that only Reiner would know (such as a confession to some of his personal misdeeds that no one else knew about).
Sage’s grandmother, Minka, is a Holocaust survivor and was imprisoned at Auschwitz. Leo manages to persuade Minka to talk about her history after much persuasion. Minka describes her childhood in Poland when she lived in a ghetto and was imprisoned at Auschwitz, as well as how she managed to survive.
Minka begins to tell us the tale she wrote as a youngster with her best friend Darija and continued writing during her time in Auschwitz.
She continued writing because it was a way for her to maintain herself and her companions. But Franz Hartmann, an SS guard, was intrigued by the tale because he felt it addressed his complicated relationship with his brother. In exchange for 10 pages of the narrative each day, Minka receives Franz’s warmth and leftovers.
Franz, accompanied by Darija, who had been smuggled in to keep Minka warm, finds Franz’s sadistic older brother Reiner stealing money from the safe that was taken from deceased prisoners once.
Reiner shoots Darija in the face, killing her instantly, and blames Minka for the theft. Minka is immediately transferred from Auschwitz to a death march in 1944, which she survives.
Minka is able to confirm one of the guards as Reiner Hartmann after seeing photographs of Nazi generals compiled by Leo and Sage the next day, stating, “I would never forget the guy who murdered my closest friend.”
In order to arrest and extradite Josef, only Reiner would know about an eyewitness account, so Sage is dispatched by Leo to speak with Josef using a wire to record his confession(s).
Sage replies that it was killing Darija and then blaming Minka for the crime, which is the worst thing he has ever done. The original script was written to have the shooter aim for Minka, but miss Darija due to his hand being shaky.
This confession deeply upsets Sage, and having obtained the material she needed, she immediately leaves Josef’s house.
Sage receives a phone call informing her that Josef was in the hospital after attempting suicide, soon after hearing Josef’s confession. Sage begins to question her connection with Adam after running into him at a cafe with his wife on his arm while she was with Leo.
Sage breaks off her engagement with Adam, recognizing that she does not want to be “the other woman.” Sage, on the verge of divorce, goes to her house and invites him in, telling him he’s there to pick up their relationship where they left off.
Sage discovers that her grandmother Minka has passed away in her sleep at home, and she blames herself for it since she believes that the stress and anguish she caused contributed to her passing.
At Minka’s burial, Sage is overwhelmed by the number of people who have come to pay their respects, so Leo takes her away to a hotel, where they become intimate and begin a relationship. Sage decides to assist Josef in achieving his dying request after he returns home from the hospital.
Sage decides she cannot forgive Josef for the crimes he committed, and they part ways. Sage later tells Josef that the worst thing he’s ever done was not killing Darija, but rather witnessing his brother choke to death in front of him and choose to let him die.
Sage eventually kills Josef by giving him a pastry that contains Monkshood instead of cinnamon and chocolate. Joseph’s last words are “how does it end,” with Sage replying, “like this,” and leaving without realizing that the message referred to Minka’s narrative, which she never completed.
When Sage returns home, she finds that the wristband Josef was wearing says his blood type is B+, whereas Reiner’s was confirmed to be AB.
Sage also discovers a story her grandmother wrote during her time in Auschwitz on the back of photographs of dead Jews, which had been taken by Reiner’s brother, Franz, who had made up his own conclusion to the tale as he was desperate for closure.
Sage discovers that Josef Weber was not Reiner Hartmann, but rather his younger brother Franz, and she had murdered someone who wasn’t who she thought he was. Sage understands, nevertheless, that Franz’s sense of guilt was not clean either, as he continued to serve in the SS.
A Conversation with Jodi about The Storyteller
Simon Wiesenthal’s THE SUNFLOWER sparked the idea for this book. In it, Wiesenthal recounts a scene in which he was brought to the bedside of a dying Nazi as a concentration camp inmate who wanted to confess and be forgiven by a Jew.
Wiesenthal’s moral quandary has been the starting point for numerous philosophical and ethical debates about the interaction between genocide victims and their perpetrators, and it got me thinking about what would happen if a similar demand were made decades later to a Jewish prisoner’s grandchild.
Naturally, this study was one of the most emotionally draining I’ve ever conducted. I spoke with numerous Holocaust victims about their experiences. Some of these facts were included in the fictional biography of my character, Minka. It was humbling and terrifying to discover that the tales they recounted were true.
Several of the events these brave men and women told me will stay with me forever, including Bernie, who pried a mezuzah from his door frame as the Nazis carried him away from his home and held it curled in his fist throughout the conflict – so that it took two years for his fingers to recover.
Or how his mother promised him that he would not be shot in the head, only the chest – can you imagine making such a promise to your child?! Gerda – who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and survived a 350-mile trek in January 1945 – because her father instructed her to put on her ski boots as she was being taken from the home.
Mania, who saved her life many times during World War II by knowing German, was assigned to office work rather than hard labor when she should have been at a concentration camp; and Herr Baker, who was her German supervisor in one factory and referred to the young Jewish women he employed as Meine Kinder (my children), saving his employees from being selected by the Nazis during a concentration camp roundup.
She spent the night at Bergen Belsen with 900 other individuals before acquiring typhoid and being on the brink of death if the British had not come to save them.
I also had the chance to talk with a real-life Nazi hunter, the director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy in the Human Rights & Special Prosecutions section of the Department of Justice.
Lest you think this subject is trivial after almost 70 years – here’s a story he told me about it. His department was ready to question an elderly man who had served as a Nazi guard and lived in the Midwest after many years of hard work.
When police officers surrounded his home, he emerged and observed the weapons, asking, “Why are you shooting?” He isn’t Jewish. However, seventy years may have passed since then. Prejudice is still alive and well 70 years later.
I didn’t know that the United States doesn’t have the legal authority to prosecute people who identify as Nazis. The Genocide Act of 1990, applies only to genocides committed by US nationals against US citizens within the US, until 2007.
As of this year, we may pursue an act of terror against Americans outside the United States. If you commit genocide throughout the world and hide out in the US, we can prosecute you as well. However, in the case of prior war crimes, we can only identify and denaturalize them before they were deported for immigration offenses…and request European nations to prosecute them.
Many individuals will inquire as to why, after all the Holocaust literature that exists, I felt compelled to write about this. I’m agnostic, but I grew up in a Jewish household like Sage, and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of representing a religious institution to which I no longer subscribe.
Someone must nevertheless take up the role. Is it because I have relatives who perished in concentration camps that I am more qualified? That is not something I should decide. Even though naysayers will say it’s pointless to look for 90-year-old men at this time, some tales need to be told.
But is it? There is no time limit on murder. Isn’t it odd that while the United States deports hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants whose only offense is to have overstayed their visas, former war criminals are allowed to live in our suburbs without fear? If we have a moral duty to history, it is to ensure that events like this do not recur.
That is, ensuring that survivors know their government cares enough to ensure they don’t have to confront their tormentors at the grocery shop.
In addition, we may be sending a message to the individual who is contemplating shooting an assault weapon since a dictator has ordered him to do so in another distant genocide.
That person may well remember that no matter how long it takes, this administration will pursue him for the rest of his life. And maybe that will be enough to persuade him to put down the weapon.
That is why I wrote this book. Because stories matter, and there are six million people who may not have the opportunity to do so.
What Others are Saying about The Storyteller
“This is a powerful and riveting, sometimes gut-wrenching, read, in which the always compelling Picoult brings a fresh perspective to an oft-explored topic.”
“Picoult is no stranger to tackling difficult issues. Her latest page-turner confronts the oft-explored subject of the Holocaust with skill, starkness, and tremendous sensitivity. The characters’ stories are compelling, but the stellar storyteller here is Picoult, who braids the quartet of intersecting tales into a powerful allegory of loss, forgiveness, and the ultimate humanity of us all. Her myriad fans are in for satisfying doses of everything they’ve come to expect from her: compulsive readability, impeccable research, and a gut-wrenching Aha! of an ending.”
— STARRED REVIEW, Library Journal
“a carefully constructed, multi-layered novel”
— Tulsa World
“I doubt that I will come across a book this year as powerful and moving as Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller.”
— Huntington News (March 1, 2013 review)
“I’m always happy when a book by author Jodi Picoult crosses my desk. I know I’m in for a good read — but this one may top all her other novels. “The Storyteller” is a must-read.”
“Picoult has put together a heartbreaking but complete and detailed story that covers a lot of ground on this tragic era in human history….those who enjoy an elaborate morality tale and who are prepared to face the horrors of the Holocaust — something it behooves us all to remember — in a novel will find much to ponder here.”
— The Vancouver Sun
“Her characters are lifelike, the dialogue crackles and the underlying research might just teach you something about the real world as well”
— AARP.com (February 27, 2013 blog review)
“I’m always happy when a book by Picoult crosses my desk. I know I’m in for a good read – but this one may top all her other novels.”
— Augusta Chronicle (February 25, 2013 print review)
“The novel is an exhausting, emotional journey. Its questions of justice and forgiveness haunt [us] long after the final page is read”
— Minneapolis Star-Tribune (February 24, 2013 print review)
“seamless and graceful”
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 24, 2013 print review)
“The Storyteller is an instant classic… This book stays with you like few others”
— 1776 Books (February 23, 2013 blog review)
“Jodi Picoult’s latest book takes readers on a harrowing, unforgettable journey ”
— Miami Herald