Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader presents a situation that readers in contemporary China might find immediately relevant. The Reader tells a story from the perspective of a member of the “second generation” attempting to come to terms with the culpability of a previous generation who was old enough to have either participated in the war effort or who recognized what was occurring under Nazism. While located in a radically different historical circumstance, the generation following a generation — marked by politically inspired traumatic occurrences, such as the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward — would be attentive, it is argued, to a text marked by intergenerational conflict, complicity, and silences.
It is proposed in the paper to give a brief reading of The Reader followed by an examination of the controversy not unexpectedly provoked amongst critics by a first-person narrative merging the themes of illiteracy with political and sexual victimization. Then, the historical fiction will be considered as raising political, cultural, and inter-generational concerns that are poignant in the context of an increasingly urbanized society in China, a society coming to terms with past political and social upheavals, as well to a generation coming to terms with unsettling changes in sexual mores.
In the final section, a questionnaire is used to document the diverse responses to the controversial novel by graduate students in a seminar at Shanghai University of Economics and Finance. The purpose here is to test out the responses of a “second generation” audience to a provocative novel and, thereby, to suggest the significances of the thematic issues of The Reader when viewed through a different cultural lens. Importantly, the effectiveness of a survey is shown as a teaching tool: in particular, in classrooms in China where students are understandably reticent to address controversial subjects.
|Keywords:||Teaching Practices, Diversity, Identity, Literature|
Lecturer, Foreign Languages Department, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China
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