From My Shelf Runneth Over:
The Reader is a novel that has generated some controversy because of the way it characterizes Hanna Schmitz, an illiterate German who worked as a prison guard at Auschwitz. The trial of Hanna forms the central point of the novel, and her lover tells its story. People have therefore been concerned that Bernard Schlink seeks some kind of sympathy or absolution for the more ignorant perpetrators of the holocaust. I think the accusation is unfounded. The novel does ask its audience to confront a story they've not yet been asked to confront: how do non-Jewish Germans recover from the stain upon their country and their forbears, who, whether tacitly or not, consented to the persecution of millions of humans?
I think it important to note that the novel has a misleading title. The narrator, young Michael Berg, is the eponymous”reader,” but only in the eyes of Hanna. By giving the book this title, Schlink suggests that the important perspective is Hanna's. Hanna, however, is never the agent who defines meaning in the novel. Rather, she is an object that moves in and out of the the narrator's life, and allows him to put a face on the atrocities of the war and to prevent them from becoming numbing cliches.