The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis


Anna and Abel couldn’t be more different. They are both seventeen and in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house and comes from a well-to-do family, Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in a big, prisonlike tower block at the edge of town. Anna is afraid of him until she realizes that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that Anna comes to see has a basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father and to his own inability to make ends meet. Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his “enemies” begin to turn up dead, she fears she has fallen for a murderer. Has she?

Summary from Goodreads

The Storyteller is a harrowing, bleak book. It’s also gorgeously written. Michaelis’s talent shows through, even in translation. (And let me just say that I really admire the translator’s work: I forgot I was reading anything but the original, even though I knew before I began that Michaelis writes in German.) The language is spellbinding, full of beautiful images that carry a kind of metaphoric resonance (blood on snow, Anna’s bubble world). I loved the way the story falls apart as winter melts into spring. On that level, this is a masterful book, and I deeply appreciated it.

On another level, The Storyteller is a deeply depressing book. I read a characterization of YA which I liked, via Elizabeth Wein–that “there is hope for the soul if not the body.” I loved this way of looking at it, which makes so much sense to me. And I’m not sure that’s present here. I found the story bleak rather than tragic. Tragedy has a catharsis to it which is lacking and which I as a reader miss.

Moreover, I worried about the way several plot points (both EXTREMELY spoilery) were handled. I agree in theory that books don’t need to be comfortable to be good, and perhaps that’s part of my reaction. But I was a bit non-plussed by the treatment of the aftermath of the boathouse scene, which was deeply troubling to me. And I really wanted more understanding of Abel’s choice at the end, which didn’t work for me as it was presented.

So I am conflicted. I suspect this book has readers, and readers who will be helped and changed by it. But I am not one of them, and I have to remind myself that that’s okay too. I am very impressed by Michaelis’s abilities and obvious talents. I’m not going to be re-reading The Storyteller any time soon.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2012, Abrams; (upper) YA. 2012 Cybils Finalist

I loved the German cover for this book!


1 Comment

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

One response to “The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis

  1. Pingback: March 2013 reading list | By Singing Light

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