Sage Singer thinks she doesn’t have much to live for after losing both parents and becoming disfigured in a car wreck; she spends her time as a baker, meeting a married lover, and attending a grief support group. During one of the meetings, she becomes friendly with an elderly man, Josef Weber, and all goes well between them until he tells her a secret: He is a former Nazi responsible for thousands of deaths. Now he wants only to die, and he needs her help. After some thought, Sage, an agnostic Jew, decides she must turn Josef in to the government for his war crimes, and she and Agent Leo Stein begin an investigation that takes them to Sage’s grandmother, Minka, an Auschwitz survivor. Throughout, Sage struggles with her decision to betray Josef, who is now a kindly old man, and her determination to right a decades-old wrong.
The Storyteller is really several stories that overlap and elucidate one another. While it’s mostly set in the present day, we are also thrust into the horrifying world of the Holocaust as Minka recounts the brutality of her life inside concentration camps, and we also see events from Josef’s point of view. In addition, there is the allegorical fairy tale Minka wrote interwoven throughout the novel. Picoult moves seamlessly between these stories, constructing a tale that humanizes all involved.
As with most Picoult books, there is a twist at the end, one that I figured out early on, though that did not deter my enjoyment of the story. This is not an easy book to read, as much of it reveals the brutality and desensitization of human nature. Its biggest success is that it plants the seed of wondering if even the worst of humanity has some redeeming quality. Recommended.