Anna lives in a blue-colored world, filled with roses and birds and flute music. But once she finds a tattered doll abandoned in her high school, Anna is pulled into the harsh and gritty life of Abel Tannatek, the school’s peddler of drugs—and more. Abel spins stories and tales for his little sister, who is on the verge of being yanked from her home with Abel and put into foster care. First by eavesdropping and later by invitation, Anna listens to the stories. Tiny queens, drowning islands and a black ship that draws ever closer—Anna is caught up in the beauty of Abel’s imagination. That is, until reality starts mimicking the stories. Until the people who die in Abel’s fairy tale begin to die in real life.
The Storyteller is an achievement. In this skillful translation from the original German, Michaelis braids together mystery, fairy tale and romance, with a bitingly sharp glimpse into the uneven world of post-communist East Germany. What’s more, she provides such a deep level of insight into the characters that you feel compelled to care for them, even as you wonder if they are capable of murder.
The book trailer for The Storyteller warns that this is “a love story without the words ‘I love you.’” And it’s true. The book grapples with only the most complicated kind of love, the kind complicated by dehumanizing poverty, drugs, prostitution, murder and rape. For this reason—even though it is classified as Young Adult—I would recommend it only to older teens and adults who feel comfortable with dark themes. But in The Storyteller, as in most fairy tales, the darkness underscores the haunting beauty and fragility of first love.