Let's get this out of the way at the outset: Kate Winslet gives a great performance in The Reader and the book is a decent but airy read [if you ignore the premise].
Now let's get on to substance. The basic premise of the book and the movie are deeply troubling. Note that the Nazi camp guard is portrayed as the poor, simple, caring woman.
Are we supposed to feel sorry for her because she could not read and had "no choice" but to be a guard? She could have been a street sweeper. She did not have "no choice."
Furthermore, the book and movie suggests that the perpetrators were poor ignorant people. This is such a misstatement of fact and the author, Bernard Schlink, as a German knows better.
Many of the leading perpetrators had Ph.D.s or were clergy and lawyers. They were well educated and quite literate. [In fact, certain section of the party specifically sought out well educated people.]
Finally, note the sharp contrast drawn by the survivor -- very rich [note the maid, the stretch limo, and the art work] and adament in her refusal to offer forgiveness or absolution -- and the poor guard who has nothing. Who is the victim, according to Schlink, here???*
This is a rewriting of history. It is, simply put, soft core denial. It does not deny the reality or the horror of the Holocaust. Not at all. But it does deny who was responsible.
Because it is so slippery I consider it a pernicious book and movie.
[Thanks to Dr. Leah Wolfson, my -- I am proud to say -- former student and now at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies for thinking this through with me. She pointed out that the book/movie seem to want to suggest that literature is redemptive which we know is not necessarily the case.]
* Case in point: a friend who saw the movie said he did felt really sorry Hannah and was sort of rooting for her.... [granted that this friend is at all well versed in the history of the Holocaust].