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Books

Great read: The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, Allen & Unwin, $29.99.
This astonishing return to form from US best-selling author Jodi Picoult, whose last two books were comparatively lacklustre, is surely her most outstanding work to date.
Sage Singer, 25, is a brilliant baker at Our Daily Bread in small town Westerbrook, run by former nun, Mary DeAngelis, who runs "not a bakery, but a community".
The walls are daubed with sucky slogans — "All you knead is love" — and customers are blessed with cool barista Rocco's swirling patterns and sip cappuccino with frothy Pope Benedict XVI and Lady Gaga toppings.
Solitary Sage, clad in clogs and cap, bakes out back from 5pm until dawn, but the mentally and facially scarred orphan suits this twilight existence.
Her married funeral director boyfriend, Adam, is the extent of her social life, alongside attendance at Helping Hands, a grief counselling group, to which members bring memories of their loss — a pair of knitted pink bootees, a husband's TV remote control. Sage sits empty-handed.
Yet all this changes when new group member nonagenarian Josef Weber — who, with dachshund Eva, is already a coffee shop regular, but unknown to the elusive baker — reveals that his losses are "too many to count".
He picks Sage out after the session to comment that, although she does not talk much, when she does, "You are a poet".
Sister Mary assures a suspicious Sage that Weber is "… as close as you can get to being canonized while still alive".
Sage is drawn deftly and gently into focus by Picoult through the eyes of the old man, her Polish-Jewish heritage uncovered and a glimpse of the story behind her scars.
"I find myself talking about things I have long packed up. Every memory is like a paper flower … and, once they've been let loose, the memories are impossible to tuck away again," she confesses.
Then comes the kicker — Weber asks Sage to kill him, showing her a photograph of himself as an SS guard.
And from here, Picoult embarks on a richly woven tale of four generations of Jews and Nazi indoctrination and terrifying genocide.
What could be heavy-handed is poetry in the author's hands and leaves us constantly churning the painful nature of forgiveness.
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