The Storyteller (Picoult novel)
The Storyteller is the twentieth novel written by the author Jodi Picoult.
Twenty-five-year-old Sage Singer lives in a small town known as Westerbrook, New Hampshire. A couple of years before the story began, Sage and her mother were in a car accident while Sage was driving. Sage's mother was killed in the crash, and Sage was left with a large scar across her cheek, which serves her as a constant reminder that she was responsible for her mother's death. Sage is very self-conscious about this scar, and chooses to wear her hair across her face in order to hide her scar,and to work nights alone as a baker, as she believes that she deserves a loner life. Sage believes that her sisters, Pepper and Saffron, blame her for their mother's death, so she actively avoids contact with them. Her best friend is Mary D'Angelis, an ex nun who owns Our Daily Bread, the bakery that Sage works at. Sage is in a sexual relationship with a funeral director called Adam, who also happens to be married, yet Sage appears to be initially fine with their arrangement, as she is still able to lead her loner life.
Although Sage's family is deeply Jewish, she refers to herself as an atheist, as she does not want to be associated as a 'Jew'. At the beginning of the novel, Sage had recently started to attend a grief group, where she meets an elderly man named Josef Weber. Josef is well known throughout the little town for being a kind and generous man. He and his wife lived in the town for about 40 years, and his wife recently died. He was a long time German teacher at the high school, as well as a baseball coach, and is seen by many in their town as a model citizen, due to his community service. After Josef and Sage become close, he tells her a secret about his past; he was a Nazi commander in the Holocaust at Auschwitz concentration camp and asks her if she will help him die.
Josef tells Sage that he committed horrific crimes and killed many people. He asks her to help him commit suicide because of how guilty he feels about what he has done. Sage is conflicted by the request and leaves Josef. After much deliberation of what to do, she calls the local police department, where she tells them she has discovered a Nazi and is referred to the Department of Justice, and gets directed to Leo Stein, the man who is in control of all things Holocaust related in the U.S. Leo, who is immediately attracted to Sage's voice tells her how difficult it will be to be able to verify that Josef is in fact telling the truth, and how it will be even more difficult to convict him of his crimes. Leo is also skeptical of her story as he does not believe that a Nazi would simply confess his crimes 70 years later. Leo investigates 'Josef Weber' and find that no such SS guard by that name existed, but under much coaxing from Sage, Josef confesses his real name was Reiner Hartmann, who was indeed an officer at Auschwitz.
However, in order to start, Sage needed more information, and that called for "considering his request of suicide." Over time she gathers bits and pieces (photographs, dates, people, places, documents) and gives it to Leo, who arrives at her house to investigate her claims (and to check that she wasn't crazy like many people who call him to tell him they have found a Nazi) to look through. They were able to confirm that his dates were accurate, but not enough to prove that Josef is who he says he is. However, in order to actually prove that Josef is Reiner, Sage must uncover information from Josef that only Reiner would know (such as a confession to some of his personal crimes that nobody else would know).
It just so happened that Sage's grandmother, Minka, was a survivor of the Holocaust and was a prisoner at Auschwitz. After much persuading Leo manages to convince Minka to open up about her past. She tells them of her time in Poland as a teenager, moving into a Ghetto and following that to Auschwitz, as well as how she survived the Holocaust. She also explains a story that she began writing in childhood with her best friend Darija and carried on writing throughout Auschwitz, as this story was found soothing by other inmates, and an SS guard known as Franz Hartmann expresses interest in the story as he believes it explains his complex relationship with his brother and offers her small comforts such as warmth and food scraps in exchange for 10 pages of the story per day.
One day upon arriving to work for Franz, accompanied by Darija (who she had smuggled in with her to warm her up), she catches his cruel older brother Reiner, Franz's superior, stealing money out of the safe that was originally taken from dead inmates. To prevent Minka from turning him in, he shoots Darija in the face, killing her instantly, and blames Minka for the theft, leading to her being sent from Auschwitz in a death march in 1944, which she survives. With Leo and Sage returning the following day with photographs of Nazi generals, Minka is able to positively identify one of the guards as Reiner Hartmann, stating "I would never forget the man that murdered my best friend".
In order to have Josef arrested and extradited, an eyewitness account was needed, something that only Reiner would know, so Sage is sent by Leo to talk to Josef, wearing a wire to record his confessions. When she asks what the worst thing he ever did was, with his reply being the murder of Darija, and the blaming of Minka for the theft. He also explains about how the bullet was meant for Minka, but hit Darija instead as he has an unstable hand that was injured in the front lines. This confession upsets Sage greatly, and with having the material she needs, leaves his house and returns to Leo.
Not long after hearing Josef's confession, Sage receives a call saying that Josef is in the hospital from an attempted suicide attempt (he tried to kill himself by mixing his medication with a salt substitute, which was told would kill him by his doctor), which was unsuccessful. Sage begins to ponder her relationship with Adam, after running into him with his arm around his wife in a cafe while she is with Leo, she breaks up with him, as she realises she is no longer happy being the other woman, and that she doesn't love him anymore. As he is now the one chasing her, instead of the other way around, Adam comes to Sage's house and proposes, telling her that he is filing for divorice so he can marry her, but she tells him to leave. While Josef is in the hospital, Sage learns that her grandmother Minka has died in her sleep, which Sage blames herself for, as she thinks that making her remember all the details about her time in the Holocaust is what killed her.
At the funeral wake at Sage's house, Sage is overwhelmed by the amount of people present, so Leo takes her away to a hotel, where the two have sex, and Leo confesses he loves her, leading to them entering into a relationship. Upon Josef's release from hospital, Sage decides to help him achieve his death wish, after an in depth chat with Mary about forgiveness, and Sage decides she cannot forgive Josef for the crimes he committed against humanity. Josef further confesses to Sage that the worst crime he ever committed was not Darija's murder, but watching his brother choke to death in front of him and choosing not to save him. Sage poisons him with a pastry exactly like the ones her great-grandfather used to make her grandmother, with Monkshood inside instead of cinnamon and chocolate. His last words are "how does it end", with Sage replying "like this" and leaving, not realising that the words were in fact about Minka's story, which she never completed.
Upon his death, returning later with Leo (who is now living with Sage at her house) and his historian Genevra, Sage discovers that the hospital wristband Josef is wearing states his blood type as B+, where Reiner's was widely known as AB. After rifling through his possessions, Sage also finds the story that her grandmother wrote in Auschwitz on the back of photos of dead Jews which kept her alive through the Holocaust, which had been taken by Reiner's brother Franz, who had made up his own ending to the story as he was desperate for closure. Sage suddenly realises that Josef Weber was not in fact Reiner Hartmann, but his younger brother Franz, and she has killed a man who was not who she thought he was, but realises that Franz's conscience was not clear either, as he was still an SS officer.
- Sage Singer: Main character and narrator of the story who befriends Nazi Josef Weber, and agrees to help him commit suicide.
- Josef Weber: A Nazi whose name is really Franz Hartmann, who believes he should die for his crimes and role in the Holocaust.
- Leo Stein: Works for the Department of Justice, becomes romantically involved with Sage.
- Minka Singer: Sage's grandmother who was a survivor of the Holocaust.
- Darija Horowicz: Minka's best friend who was killed by Reiner Hartmann in the Holocaust.
- Mary D'Angelis: An ex nun who is Sage's best friend, who owns the bakery she works at and regularly provides Sage with advice.