The narrator opens the chapter by reflecting on his sadness whenever he thinks back to the time of his affair with Hanna. He wonders whether his sorrow is due to nostalgia or to the “knowledge of what came later, and that what came out afterwards had been there all along.” Speaking in abstractions, he wonders why beauty can be destroyed retroactively because of “concealed dark truths.” Despite his happiness at that time, he is unable to remember it as happy because “it ended unhappily.” Thinking about his younger self, Michael recognizes the awkwardness of his body, his average performance in school, his low self-esteem — and despite all of this, his energy and belief that he will succeed. He wonders whether he remembers his younger self with sadness because he had expectations that have never been fulfilled.
The adult Michael is filled with uncertainty about his feelings toward his past affair. Thinking of it saddens him, but he’s unsure whether this is because he wishes to go back to that time with Hanna or whether it is because he later learned Hanna’s “dark truths” — that she was complicit in the murder of countless people as a Nazi prison guard. Like Michael’s childish fantasies about the Bahnhofstrasse building, the optimistic expectations of his teenage self are unfulfilled.
By contrast, Hanna was “rooted in the here and now.” When Michael asks her about her life, she is evasive and hesitant to answer. She only gives him basic facts about herself, such as her age and her job, but “as if she rummaged around in a dusty chest to get [him] the answers.” She doesn’t seem to understand why Michael would want to know more about her. The future too seems unimportant to Hanna, as she is unwilling to discuss her and Michael’s future relationship, nor even the immediate future, such as the bicycle trip Michael wants to take with her during Easter vacation.
Hanna’s evasiveness is an example of the emotional distance that she keeps between herself and Michael. When Hanna does talk about herself, she does so in a detached manner, demonstrating that she is distant not only from Michael but also from herself. Her apparent inability to understand why Michael wants to know more about her is perhaps rooted in her inability to read certain situations, such as the fact that Michael wants more from her than just sex.
At this point, the narrator notes the strangeness of Michael’s proposal, which included the suggestion that they rent a room together as mother and son. Whenever the teenage Michael had gone out with his mother, he was embarrassed to be seen by his friends. Yet the thought of being seen with Hanna, who is old enough to be his mother, makes him “proud.” The narrator reflects on how a woman Hanna’s age seems young to him now, and how a fifteen-year-old boy is merely a child. Nevertheless, his relationship with Hanna gave him a confidence that reflected in his interactions with his teachers and other teenagers.
Again, Hanna’s role as a mother figure is apparent, as Michael is the one who proposes that Hanna pose as his mother. Michael’s embarrassment when seen with his actual mother is a typical example of conflict between a teenager and his parent. Though Michael is proud to be seen with Hanna, his pride ultimately becomes a source of conflict for him, as their relationship comes to represent the accommodation of Nazis by everyday Germans
The narrator remembers his younger self’s life as a blur at that time, as his days were busy with schoolwork and with his regular meetings with Hanna. Michael begins to lie to his family to miss dinner in order to stay with Hanna longer, because he starts reading to her. One day, after Michael tells her about the texts he is reading for school, Hanna asks him to read something to her, but he refuses. The next day, she makes reading aloud to her a condition of their having sex, and their routine of showering and sex is from then on preceded by his reading aloud. Hanna is an enthusiastic and attentive listener, and Michael, who is “completely happy,” reads longer to stay with her longer.
As Michael spends more time with Hanna, he distances himself even more from his family by keeping Hanna a secret and by missing time with his family. Just as she made his schoolwork a condition for sex, Hanna makes their reading sessions yet another condition, establishing her dominance over Michael. Hanna’s stubborn insistence that Michael read aloud to her is a hint to the reader of her illiteracy, which Michael will only discover years later.