The Reader

26 Nov

Recently I finished reading my first book in German. I mean an actual proper German book, not a children’s book, a comic but actual Literature (note the capital “L”). All 204 pages of it.

What I have dubbed “The Reading Project” started because my German teacher suggested that I should choose a book to read and at the start of each lesson describe to her what happened in the part of the story that I read since the last lesson. It would be a good opportunity to increase my vocabulary and to learn passively. The only caveat was the book had to be originally written in German; no German translations of English texts were allowed (which basically means no Harry Potter).

She gave me full choice of what to read. I went into a bookshop and browsed through the books until I came to a book called Der Vorleser. The English translation is The Reader. You might remember from a few years back that Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role in the screen adaptation of this book. So, yes, in effect I was cheating a bit because I already knew the outline of the story.


It was only after I had bought the book and I had told my teacher that I what I was reading that I realised that I might have made a terrible mistake. Firstly, after a few pages it was apparent that this book was relatively difficult. In the beginning, it felt like I was looking up every other word and progress was slow and painful.

But my second mistake was that I had forgot what the main theme of the book was. If you have seen the film (or read the book), you will know what I mean. The main premise of the book was the relationship of the 15 year-old boy and a 36 year-old woman. The relationship starts of innocent enough and then develops into a sexual relationship. This meant that I had to explain some, ahem, intimate details.

My description of what happened at a certain point in the novel went something a little bit like this (translated into English):

Me: So, he was sitting in the bath and then she came in and she was naked, and so on…

Teacher: What do you mean by “and so on”?

Me: You know, they like did things that adults do when they are alone together in bed. Oh my god this is so embarrassing…

Teacher: It might be embarrassing but it is important to know this stuff in German as well!

I guess that she did have a point but explaining this stuff would have been embarrassing for me if in was in English. To try to describe it succintly in another language, while I desparately struggled to find words and phrases, was near on impossible.

Thankfully, not all of the book was like this. The themes of the book are complex and I realised that I had forgotten most of the story and the plot twists. A really difficult part for me to understand was when the story moved to a courtroom and there was a lot of legal terms and jargon that made it difficult to understand what was going on all of the time. I am an avid reader and the main reason for me engaging in reading is for pure enjoyment and escapism. An exercise where I need to look up words in the dictionary constantly takes away some of the joy of reading for me.

All in all, I feel like this is a huge acheivement for me but that is not to say that I am 100% satisifed with my progress with the German language. Just two days ago I was ready to quit learning and just give up because I don’t feel as if I am able to remember everything that I have learnt and spending huge quantities of time and money on it in the process. But I have learnt so much since starting to learn 3 years ago and sometimes it is easy to forget that.

I am always reminded by my friend who, when I was explaining how frustrated I was with this language, said “Language learning isn’t linear”. No, it isn’t. But I think it’s about time someone changed it so that it is.

2 Responses to “The Reader”


  1. Disaster and two murders in a weekend! | Our Girl in Zurich - February 5, 2017

    […] ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was […]

  2. 40 Before 40: Challenge #27 | Our Girl in Zurich - November 6, 2017

    […] I read this book as part of my German lessons earlier this year. I wrote about this at the time on my blog. If you didn’t see it the first time, the link is here. […]

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