Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller”: A heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful story that shows the strength of the human spirit

I’m going to start by saying that I am a massive fan of Jodi Picoult. Her novels are inspiring, gripping, enthralling and full of love, plot twists and the unpredictable nature of human life. Her characters are strong, yet sometimes beautifully flawed — which is why we love them so much and find them so relatable. Her ability to write is sensational, and the fact that she can write multiple (and different) points of view from the same story so convincingly is astonishing — you could genuinely believe any side could be the side she herself believes.

Picoult’s novels have always made me think and question the world that I live in. Usually after putting down one of her books I need to take time to reflect, both on myself and everything else around me. But, once I finished The Storyteller, I couldn’t even craft a coherent sentence. The book just swiped the floor from under me feet, and left me gaping at the last page.

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.

Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?

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The Storyteller is a searingly honest novel, and Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future.Not having been through the War or concentration camps as a Jew herself, it’s amazing how well she tells the story.

Even days after finishing, I still cannot stop thinking about this novel. It wasn’t a typical book for Picoult in the sense that no one really walks away wth a happily-ever-after ending. Which, for me, makes it more real. Because, really, who does in this kind of situation?

As usual, Picoult tackles some big issues in The Storyteller — the truth about forgiveness; the truth about good vs evil; the fact that we have bad and good inside us; how inept the human language is and how it falls short trying to explain things that really matter.

It would be easy to be completely downhearted during The Storyteller: some of the stories are utterly heartbreaking and my book certainly has its fair amounts of tear drops melted into it’s pages. But it’s important to note that this tory is not just one of tragedy, but of hope, and the strength of the human spirit, shown mostly through the character of Sage’s grandmother, Minka.

Minka is by far my favourite character, but more than that she is someone I aspire to be as a person. She is strong, she is bold and she is brave. She has compassion for those who hurt her and her enemies, and despite everything she tries to see the good in people. She doesn’t look at what’s broken, she holds on to what’s still whole, and doesn’t see cracks in people’s soul as brokenness, but spaces to pour love into.

At the end of the novel, Sage says:

“My grandmother lived a remarkable life. She watched her nation fall to pieces; and even when she became collateral damage, she believed in the power of the human spirit. She gave when she had nothing; she fought when she could barely stand; she clung to tomorrow when she couldn’t find footing on the rock ledge of yesterday.”
— Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

That is the most important that – “she clung to tomorrow”. That is the real message in Picoult’s heartbreaking story.

From her own heartbreaking experiences, Minka teaches readers what can take a lifetime to figure out on our own:

“Sometimes all you need to live one more day is a good reason to stick around.”
— Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

She also reminds us that:

“No matter how educated you are, no matter how irrational it seems, you will follow a glimmer of hope.”
— Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

That’s the most important thing we have in this life. Our ability to have hope in tomorrow, our ability to believe that tomorrow might be better, and using that to carry on through the worst of times. It is the backbone of human spirit, because that’s when the real work begins. To find hope where there seems to be absolutely none at all. And the truth we always have to be willing to keep looking for light in the darkest of places without stopping, even when it seems impossible.

Just before the story ends, Picoult writes a poignant phrase that I haven’t been able get out of my head since. It’s one of those quotes that, for me, perfectly sums up the meaning and message of the novel, and is a quote I know I will always carry with me. She writes:

“I don’t believe in God. But sitting there, in a room full of those who feel otherwise, I realize that I do believe in people. In their strength to help each other, and to thrive in spite of the odds, I believe that the extraordinary trumps the ordinary, any day. I believe that having something to hope for — even if it’s just a better tomorrow — is the most powerful drug on this planet.”
— Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

 

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