Bernhard Schlink 1944-
German novelist, editor, nonfiction writer, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Schlink's career through 2002.
A respected German jurist, legal scholar, and best-selling crime writer in his native country, Schlink captured international attention with his novel Der Vorleser (1995; The Reader), whose English translation was featured as an Oprah Book Club selection in 1999. A more serious literary work than his popular mysteries, The Reader reflects Schlink's preoccupation with postwar German history and, in particular, the dark legacy of the Holocaust among “second generation” Germans. Schlink's collection of short stories, Liebesfluchten (2001; Flights of Love), similarly explores the complex moral and psychological tensions that shape German self-identity and national consciousness after the horrors of the Nazi era, the betrayals of the Cold War, and the difficult process of reunification.
Schlink was born on July 6, 1944, in Grossdornberg, Bielefeld, Germany. He earned a law degree at Ruprech Karls University, Heidelberg, in 1975. In 1981 he graduated from Albert Ludwigs University, where he received the privatdozent, the German equivalent of a doctoral degree. Schlink was a professor of law at the University of Bonn from 1982 to 1991, later teaching at the University of Frankfurt am Main from 1991 to 1992. Since January 1992, he has served as a professor of constitutional law at Humboldt University in Berlin. He has also worked as a legal consultant and been a regular visiting professor at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. A member of the German bar, Schlink was appointed as a justice of the Constitutional Court at Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, in 1988. Travelling regularly, he has conducted student seminars—both in German and English—at several international universities. In 1998 Schlink was awarded the Boston Book Review Fisk Fiction Prize for The Reader.
Schlink's first work to be published in English translation, The Reader, revolves around the problematic relationship between a teenager named Michael Berg and Hanna Schmitz, an enigmatic streetcar conductor more than twice his age. The first third of the novel, which is set in a small German town during the late 1950s, recounts their strange and passionate secret encounters, during which they bathe and make love, while Michael reads to Hanna from the literary masterpieces he is assigned to read at school. Their yearlong affair is abruptly ended when Hanna disappears without explanation, leaving Michael bolstered with newfound self-confidence as well as a sense of guilt over her departure. The second third of the novel takes place seven years later when Michael, now a law student, encounters Hanna in court, where she is among a group of female Nazi guards on trial for committing wartime atrocities against Jewish concentration-camp prisoners. During the trial, Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate, a fact that she conceals out of pride and shame, but which helps to explain her voluntary enlistment in the Nazi military and, if revealed, could aid her legal defense. However, caught in a moral dilemma that causes him to reflect on Germany's collective guilt and the responsibility of individuals, Michael does nothing with this information and Hanna is sent to prison. In the final third of the novel, Michael resumes his life, but is consumed with an emotional numbness and finds himself unable to sustain any satisfying relationships or to reconcile himself to the relativism of the legal profession. Years later, Michael decides to make tape recordings of himself reading books, which he sends, unaccompanied by letters, to Hanna in prison. Hanna eventually sends him a thankful reply, indicating that she has learned to read and write. In the novel's conclusion, Hanna is granted early release, but, the day before Michael arrives to pick her up, she hangs herself. Michael notices that Hanna has amassed a small library of Holocaust literature in her cell and realizes that, presumably, her newly gained literacy has been used to understand the horrifying implications of her Nazi collaboration.
Schlink followed The Reader with Flights of Love, a volume of seven short stories nominally grouped around the theme of love but mainly concerned with unsavory aspects of obsession, conflicts of conscience, and infidelity. In “Das Mädchen mit der Eidechse” (“Girl with Lizard”), a young law student is preoccupied with a mysterious painting. He soon discovers that the painting was produced by a well-known Jewish artist and was stolen by his father, a former Nazi, during the German invasion of Strasbourg, leaving the son to grapple with issues of guilt and complicity. Another story, “Beschneidung” (“The Circumcision”), revolves around the strained relationship between an American Jewish woman—a descendant of Holocaust survivors—and a German law student who, after facing damning criticism of his German heritage, undergoes circumcision in a futile effort to placate the woman and her disapproving family. “Der Seitensprung” (“A Little Fling”) involves a man from West Germany and his friendship with a couple from the East, which disintegrates after the fall of the Berlin Wall, revealing Cold War political betrayals between the friends. In “Der Andere” (“The Other Man”), a widower learns that his late wife has been unfaithful and, in an effort to understand the relationship, he writes to her former lover in the guise of his deceased wife. In “Zuckererbsen” (“Sugar Peas”), a successful German architect and artist is unfaithful to his wife and two lovers and, after he is accidentally handicapped, must atone for his duplicity by relinquishing his work and fortune to his scornful lovers, who have unified to take their revenge.
Although The Reader and Flights of Love are his only two fictional works to receive English translation, Schlink began his literary career in the 1980s with Selbs Justiz (1987), the first in a trilogy of German-language crime novels that includes Selbs Betrug (1992) and Selbs Mord (2001). Selb, the protagonist of each work in the series, is a former Nazi prosecutor turned private detective whose investigations are set against the historical background of postwar Germany and the moral complexities of the Holocaust and reconstruction. In Selbs Justiz, Selb learns of his unwitting role in the use of Jewish slave labor and several unjust executions during the war. In the tradition of American pulp detective fiction, Selb lives dangerously and exhibits a weakness for cigarettes, alcohol, and female companionship. The punning titles of this series play on the German word “selb,” which means “self,” and each novel draws attention to the German dilemma of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, or coming to terms with the past. In Die gordische Schleife (1988), another of Schlink's crime thrillers, the protagonist, a lawyer named Georg Schlink, discovers his complicity in an industrial espionage scheme and struggles to understand the true identity of those around him and, significantly, his own identity. Schlink has also published several nonfiction works regarding German law including Abwägung im Verfassungsrecht (1976) and Die Amtshilfe: ein Beitrag zu einer Lehre von der Gewaltenteilung in der Verwaltung (1982) as well as co-editing Weimar: A Jurisprudence of Crisis (2000), a collection of constitutional theory from the Weimar period.
Schlink has earned a wide audience in Germany with his popular mysteries, and the publication of The Reader has brought him international fame and recognition as one of Germany's finest contemporary authors. The German newspaper Der Spiegel has even hailed The Reader as one of the greatest German literary works since Günter Grass's The Tin Drum. The English translation of Schlink's novel, buoyed by the endorsement of American talk show host Oprah Winfrey's popular book club, has garnered enthusiastic reviews in the United States, with critics praising Schlink's scrupulous, earnest prose and his powerful examination of the moral ambiguities facing postwar Germans. Though some reviewers have regarded the novel as an unflinching national allegory, others have found serious flaws in its implicit suggestion that Hanna's illiteracy, a point of readerly sympathy, accounts for her poor life choices and, ultimately, her barbaric wartime deeds. Several commentators have noted that Germany boasted one of the highest literacy rates in Europe and many top Nazi officers were highly educated and eminently cultured, thus debunking any notion that the Holocaust was the work of unsophisticated, uneducated German dupes. In addition, some critics have found the novel's moral center to be so ambiguous and equivocal that no serious conclusions about the culpability, or innocence, of individual Germans can be drawn from the work, thus trivializing Holocaust guilt altogether. Most reviewers, however, have commended Schlink's method of raising difficult questions and allowing his readers to draw their own ethical conclusions. Flights of Love, though treated by many as a companion to The Reader, has received mixed critical assessments. While some critics have approved of Schlink's minimalist style and his investigations into the influence of modern German history on individual lives and relationships, others have found his stories to be emotionally insubstantial, unconvincing, and artlessly didactic.
Abwägung im Verfassungsrecht (nonfiction) 1976
Die Amtshilfe: ein Beitrag zu einer Lehre von der Gewaltenteilung in der Verwaltung (nonfiction) 1982
Selbs Justiz [with Walter Popp] (novel) 1987
Die gordische Schleife (novel) 1988
Selbs Betrug (novel) 1992
Der Vorleser [The Reader] (novel) 1995
Weimar: A Jurisprudence of Crisis [editor; with Arthur J. Jacobson] (criticism) 2000
Liebesfluchten [Flights of Love] (short stories) 2001
Selbs Mord (novel) 2001
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SOURCE: Zimmerman, Ulf. Review of Der Vorleser, by Bernhard Schlink. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 951.
[In the following review, Zimmerman praises Schlink's characterization in Der Vorleser, calling the novel “powerful and poignant.”]
Bernhard Schlink has made a reputation for himself as a master of mysteries grounded in the realities of past and present Germany. In Der Vorleser (The Reader) too there is a pivotal element of mystery, but it is subordinated to the profounder dilemmas of living German history.
The story is that of the fifteen-year-old Michael, who, in the late 1950s, is taken in by Hanna, a thirty-six-year-old woman, because he gets sick in front of her apartment house. He and Hanna drift into an affair of intense mutual dependence. As the title indicates, one of the central features of their ritual is that he reads to her before they proceed to showering and having sex. The affair culminates in a bicycle tour, for which she asks him to make all the arrangements—routes, meals, inns (where, of course, he must register them as mother and son for a room). Shortly after their return, she suddenly and inexplicably gives up her job as a streetcar conductor, leaves town, and disappears without a trace.
Years later Michael is studying law. One professor gives his seminar the assignment of following the...
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SOURCE: Angier, Carole. “Finding Room for Understanding.” Spectator 279, no. 8830 (25 October 1997): 54-5.
[In the following review, Angier asserts that The Reader offers an interesting and engaging portrayal of post-World War II “German guilt.”]
At first this seems a simple, intriguing little tale. But be warned. It does to you what history does to its characters: before you know where you are, you are faced with the most extreme, unanswerable questions, which you have to decide.
At 15 the narrator, a boy living in a postwar German town, falls in love with a 36-year-old woman. Their meetings are always the same: they shower, he reads to her, they make love. Hanna is strange and secretive and, when they quarrel, cruel. Michael has to surrender and beg her forgiveness or she will send him away. And yet she seems to need his love and approval as much as he needs hers. Finally, as a result, it seems, of his abandoning her for his friends one afternoon, she disappears. He does not see her again until many years later, when he has become a law student. One day he attends a trial concerning the concentration camps, and she is one of the defendants.
Here the book shuts like a trap and you can't escape, however much you long to. The split between Michael's memories of love and what he is now forced to know makes horribly vivid the torment of the ‘second...
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SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Thoughts about Hanna.” London Review of Books 19, no. 21 (30 October 1997): 22-3.
[In the following review, Annan compliments the moral ambiguousness of the character of Michael in The Reader, noting the work's “virtuoso passages of evocation.”]
Last year in Bonn in the brand-new Museum of Modern History (Haus der Geschichte) I watched a video about concentration camps. A row of female guards captured by the Allies stood in line, middle-aged and grim. Then a younger one spoke straight to camera. She was blonde and dishevelled; she said her name, her age—24—and that she had been at Belsen two months. She looked terrified. I felt sorry for her, and shocked that I was. This novel [The Reader] is about someone like her, and examines the feelings I had.
It is an anxious, intense and gripping work, and the opening is characteristically abrupt: ‘When I was 15, I got hepatitis.’ That was in 1958. The narrator is Michael Berg, the son of a professor of philosophy. One day on his way home from school he throws up and nearly faints. A woman takes him into the courtyard of her apartment block, sluices him down at the pump, then sluices down the pavement. He is crying, so she gives him a hug, and walks him home. He spends the next six months in bed. As soon as he gets better, his mother sends him off with a bunch of flowers to thank the woman....
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SOURCE: Cheyette, Bryan. “The Past as Palimpsest.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4939 (28 November 1997): 23.
[In the following review, Cheyette offers a generally positive assessment of The Reader, but asserts that the novel's evocation of Jewish victimhood is inadequate.]
At one point in The Reader, the book's narrator, Michael Berg, fears that he has descended into platitude. Berg, at the age of sixteen, has fallen in love with Hanna Schmitz, a woman twenty years his senior. The sentimental version of boyish sexual awakening (sometimes with an older woman) is a staple of Hollywood cinema, though it also informs much serious nineteenth-century European literature. As he looks back on his intense affair with Hanna, after a thirty-year gap, Berg is aware that his memories have been undermined by “fantasized images”. Later on, he calls on “reality” to “drive out the clichés”. What makes this novel so compelling is precisely the quality of rereading past events so as to avoid turning agonized recollections into comfortable banalities. Bernhard Schlink, a professor of law at the University of Berlin, is also a crime writer, which is presumably one reason why he is so suspicious of the merely formulaic.
Berg is completely transformed by his relationship with Hanna and, at the beginning of their love-making, forgets “the world in the recesses of the body”....
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SOURCE: Mundy, Toby. “The Terrible Secret of the Older Woman.” New Statesman 127, no. 4637 (9 January 1998): 44.
[In the following review, Mundy lauds Schlink's depiction of the German consciousness in The Reader, noting that the novel “reminds us of the ghostly immanence of the Nazi past in every aspect of postwar Germany.”]
“If only it were all so simple!”, Solzhenitsyn once wrote. “If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Bernard Schlink's magnificent chiaroscuro novel The Reader grapples with the legacy of those who carried out the Final Solution to tackle head on Solzhenitsyn's discomforting question.
Told in part as a rite-of-passage tale, in part as courtroom drama, this highly original contribution to the literature of the Holocaust is also a meditation on the precarious architecture of secrecy. It opens with an account of the intoxicating force of erotic love. Michael Berg, aged 15, embarks on a passionate clandestine affair with Hanna, an orderly, fastidious woman in her mid-thirties, much concerned with cleanliness.
At first their alliance develops conventionally: she...
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SOURCE: Hoffman, Eva. “The Uses of Illiteracy.” New Republic 218, no. 12 (23 March 1998): 33-6.
[In the following review, Hoffman praises Schlink's narrative in The Reader, but cites shortcomings in Schlink's study of Hanna's subjective states and the novel's suggestion that literacy engenders moral cultivation.]
Several years ago I was asked to participate in a public discussion with a German author who had written a memoir about the anguish and the guilt of growing up as a daughter of a minor Nazi functionary. I spent some time wondering whether I could work up the requisite sympathy for her plight; and I came to the conclusion that sympathy was warranted. As I read more memoirs and studies on this subject, I began to think that the difficulties faced by the “second generation” in Germany were in their way as painful as the problems often experienced by children of Holocaust survivors. For the inheritors of the Nazi legacy, a moral life seemed to require a condemnation of their parents—an excruciating, an almost impossible, conflict. How do you feel about someone you love whom you have a duty to hate?
This predicament is at the heart of The Reader, a brief, restrained novel by Bernhard Schlink. It has been published to great acclaim in several European countries; and its success—following on the enraptured reception of The Emigrants, another...
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SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Modern Love.” New York Review of Books 45, no. 5 (26 March 1998): 4-5.
[In the following review, Enright concludes that The Reader is a deeply troubling book in which the agonizing moral dilemmas of the Holocaust are revisited and left unresolved.]
Rarely can a novel of this modest size have made such demands on its readers. The more slowly and carefully you follow the narrative [in The Reader], the more tortuous, unsettled, and uncertain or ambivalent it grows, and the more difficult to epitomize. Such, we suppose, is to be expected of what is concurrently a small, personal attempt at sustained moral accounting and a large, public one.
The opening promises a relatively simple story in an established genre, that of the education sentimentale. Michael Berg, a fifteen-year-old German schoolboy, is violently sick in the street, and “when rescue came, it was almost an assault.” (Virtually every phrase here has its significance, even though the significances, often at variance with one another, are not going to add up neatly.) A woman, a stranger, hauls him into a courtyard, briskly washes him clean with tap water, and escorts him home. His sickness is diagnosed as hepatitis. Some four months later, at his mother's instigation, he calls on the woman, with a bunch of flowers to thank her. Her name is Hanna Schmitz, she is thirty-six-years...
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SOURCE: Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 66, no. 3 (1999): 417-30.
[In the following excerpt, Bell evaluates the strengths and the weaknesses of The Reader.]
There are the novelists who cannot give us enough of life; they cram down our throats more than we can easily swallow, and we nearly choke on a mass of characters and scenes and intertangled plots, and on the macro-history of social movements, politics, war, revolution and economic change, as well as the micro-history of souls. They demand that we take into ourselves a whole potful of reality because this, they urge, is the only way to understand what happens. And there are novelists who elect to serve the small sample, or the distilled essence of individual relationships—just that. The writers of this second kind also claim to give us the knowledge that will explain our lives; everything we need to know is contained in the story of how a few persons feel about one another, they seem to say—all of history in the larger world is implied in a spoonful. …
In [a] novel of two hundred small pages, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader tells us what seems at first a timeless love story. It is only after forty pages that we can place the period in which it transpires by the casual mention that fifteen-year-old Michael Berg has been reading in his schoolbooks about the recent German past of the Third Reich. It...
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SOURCE: Thomas, Michelle Haines. “Love and Indifference.” Quadrant 43, no. 5 (May 1999): 85-6.
[In the following review, Thomas praises Schlink's examination of German history in The Reader.]
Holocaust literature is an overburdened realm. The moral freight that accompanies even the slightest efforts in this genre can sit heavily with reviewers and readers alike and has resulted in the honouring of some rather lightweight novels purely on the basis of their subject matter. I hate to bring it up again but (gulp) The Hand that Signed the Paper is a case in point. Despite the initial fracas, time and a bit of perspective have shown that the book was a largely insignificant work of fiction.
I must admit that I thought something similar was happening with Bernhard Schlink's The Reader after I read the first section. It had been recommended to me in the highest terms and was stamped with a whole swag of reviewers' endorsements, such as one which called it an “extraordinary novel” and one which suggested it would reveal to readers “the nature of atonement”. High praise indeed and more than I thought this slim German novel deserved—so far.
It was certainly elegantly put together, with a sparse, understated style that seemed to hold back more than it displayed. The story concerned a young boy in love with a much older woman, and very gently and...
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SOURCE: Conway, Jeremiah P. “Compassion and Moral Condemnation: An Analysis of The Reader.” Philosophy and Literature 23, no. 2 (October 1999): 284-301.
[In the following essay, Conway examines the moral dimensions of compassion in The Reader, drawing upon Martha Nussbaum's definition of compassion as a philosophical model.]
Human relationships are shaped decisively by how we respond to each other's suffering. Nearly all religious traditions emphasize that compassion, defined in a preliminary way as the emotional ability to be moved by the suffering of others, marks the spiritual development of both individuals and communities. But precisely because compassion is so widely praised, questions about its limits are often neglected. Are there instances when compassion must be checked or set aside? Is there something misguided about responding compassionately to people in certain situations? Are there, in short, appropriate limits to compassion?
In a recent, highly acclaimed German novel, The Reader,1 Bernard Schlink probes one possible limit: moral condemnation. The narrator (and main character of the story) struggles with the tension between compassion and condemnation as he witnesses the suffering of a proud woman desperately trying to hide the fact that she cannot read, an inability causing profound shame that dominates her entire life. His impulse to...
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SOURCE: Sansom, Ian. “Doubts about The Reader.” Salmagundi, nos. 124-125 (fall 1999-winter 2000): 3-16.
[In the following essay, Sansom objects to the overall critical acceptance of The Reader and offers a negative evaluation of the novel, which he finds morally superficial, trite, and mendacious.]
Death by the book is uncommon, but it is not unknown. Printing, for example, was until relatively recently a dangerous trade, and the effects of lead poisoning through the practice known as ‘chewing type’ was said in some cases to have been fatal. Dr Edward Smith, in his report on the Sanitary Conditions of Printers in London for the House of Commons in 1863, noted that compositors seemed to be suffering from “poisoned hands and dropping of the wrists,” and that publisher's readers could most often be found tucked away in dark closets, “not much larger than a full-sized coffin.” The book trade, one might say, brings one close to death (anyone who has had dealings with publishers will confirm this).
Merely reading books can also be hazardous. Momme Brodersen, in his biography of Walter Benjamin, tells how “twice at the turn of 1939/40 he [Benjamin] met up with his ex-wife Dora, but he did not yield to her entreaties to leave Paris and bring himself into safety. Instead, he had his reader's card at the Bibliothèque Nationale renewed so that he could proceed with...
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SOURCE: Adams, Jeffrey. Review of Liebesfluchten, by Bernhard Schlink. World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 147-48.
[In the following review, Adams lauds Schlink's examination of love and passion in Liebesfluchten.]
After establishing himself as a prize-winning author of popular crime novels, Bernhard Schlink published the best-selling novel Der Vorleser, which in the eyes of many elevated him to a higher level of literary achievement. His latest book, [Liebesfluchten,] a collection of stories about love, indicates that Schlink will continue to set higher literary goals for himself, but without giving up the elements that made his previous writings commercially viable: the twisting plots and surprise endings of the crime genre and the undemanding, straightforward style that makes him such an easy read.
As the book's title announces, these stories concern the “flights of love.” Whether drawn by love's magnetic pull or fleeing its stifling clutches, the characters in these very credible and very conventional narratives are caught in the tangles of Eros, but also ensnared by the complexities of their social and historical situations. Organized around the amatory predicaments of everyday people, these stories treat themes that could easily devolve into kitsch. But, as he had done in Der Vorleser, Schlink avoids this tendency by placing his...
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SOURCE: Zimler, Richard. “Sympathy for the Devil.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (7 October 2001): 8.
[In the following review, Zimler offers a favorable assessment of Flights of Love, but deems several of the volume's stories unsuccessful.]
Has a woman who committed an atrocity in the service of the Third Reich any right to expect understanding from an old lover who hears of the crime's circumstances years later? And if we as readers come to see how a tragic flaw in her character led her to choose evil, can we permit ourselves to feel what was previously unthinkable: sympathy?
These and other questions raised by Bernhard Schlink's international best-seller The Reader served to undermine the emotional certainties of his narrator and the public alike. Some critics even called the novel “morally confused” because it dared to paint in shades of gray a tiny fictional corner of a historical landscape generally thought of in starkest black and white: the Holocaust.
In Schlink's mature and disturbing new collection of short fiction, Flights of Love, he again brings his ambiguous storytelling gifts to the themes of psychic numbing, collective guilt and betrayal that have haunted his postwar generation in Germany. Facing turning points in their lives, their naiveté smothered by the weight of experience and history, his characters know that whatever...
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SOURCE: Franklin, Ruth. “Immorality Play.” New Republic (15 October 2001): 54-60.
[In the following review, Franklin offers a negative assessment of The Reader and Flights of Love, arguing that both are disguised “bad books.”]
That bad books are the books most widely read is an entirely mundane phenomenon of contemporary culture. Every week the major book reviews assess a dozen books in a variety of genres, of varying quality but deemed of sufficient significance or originality or beauty to merit a thousand words or so. With only a few exceptions, these books then vanish forever: good books get reviewed, but bad books get bought.
Once in a while, though, books of “literary merit” do take a spin on the best-seller list. These are often just bad books in disguise—Corelli's Mandolin, or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. With regard to style, both of those books are credible imitations of the real thing; but unlike the “designer” handbags hawked on the street, what gives away these knock-offs is not their detailing but the absence at their core. Under the weight of all their trappings—pseudo-historical documents, lengthy digressions on esoterica, winking self-referentiality—they shudder with emptiness.
The best recent example of the disguised bad book is surely Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. Schlink was a...
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SOURCE: Begley, Louis. “Lonely in Germany.” New York Review of Books 49, no. 1 (17 January 2002): 16-17.
[In the following review, Begley commends the stories in Flights of Love, which he views as extensions of the thematic concerns in The Reader.]
Flights of Love is the second work of fiction by the German writer Bernhard Schlink to appear in English. Schlink became famous following the publication in 1997, in the United States, of his novel The Reader, published in 1995 in German under the title of Der Vorleser, a German word that denotes one who reads aloud to others. It has no precise equivalent in English. The Reader had the biggest international success of any German novel since The Tin Drum. It would be satisfying to say that the popularity of this short, intelligent, and beautifully written work in the US was entirely owing to critical recognition of its high literary merit. In fact, Schlink's novel received a powerful boost in 1999 from its selection by Oprah's Book Club. Schlink is also the author of a trilogy, Selbs Justiz (1987), Selbs Betrug (1994), and Selbs Mord (2001), which records the exploits of the eponymous central character, Gerhard Selb, a rather lovable former Nazi prosecutor practicing, in the style of the more intellectual members of that profession, as a private eye in an imperfectly denazified Germany. He wrote...
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SOURCE: Bedford, Martyn. “A Moral Maze.” New Statesman 131, no. 4572 (28 January 2002): 54.
[In the following review, Bedford provides a favorable assessment of Flights of Love, but finds weaknesses in several of the volume's selections.]
When a Gentile decides to have himself circumcised so that he can adopt the religion of his Jewish girlfriend, he explains the dilemma like this: “Either she has to become like me, or I become like her. You really tolerate only your own kind.” This is the premise of “The Circumcision,” the longest, strangest story in this collection [Flights of Love] from the author of the critically acclaimed international best-seller The Reader. Indeed, tolerance is a recurring theme in Bernhard Schlink's fiction—and not just tolerance, or the lack of it, between peoples, but the uniquely German issue of how the nation achieves a tolerable assimilation of its collective shame over the Holocaust. If it is true that we tolerate only our own kind—and there is plenty of contemporary and historical evidence—where does that leave a generation who find the actions of their fathers and grandfathers intolerable?
In The Reader, an affair between two Germans—a youth and an older woman haunted by her Nazi past—provided the framework for an affecting study of this intergenerational angst. The couple in “The Circumcision” are...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
SOURCE: Bogan, Kathleen. “Pressures of Peace.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5159 (15 February 2002): 23.
[In the following review, Bogan compliments the sophisticated literary style of Flights of Love, calling the work a “provocative collection of stories on the theme of ethical predicaments.”]
It sometimes happens that writers, like peacemakers, advance the very division they set out to examine and even denounce. For Bernhard Schlink, a professor of public law and legal philosophy, this appears to be increasingly the case. Following the international success of The Reader (1998), a Holocaust coming-of-age novel, Schlink has found himself thrust repeatedly into the twin spotlights of adulation and condemnation by critics who either praise or censure him for his method of mingling ethical arguments about the horrors of the Holocaust with the promotion of tolerance and harmony.
Critical and popular attention has intensified with the publication of Schlink's new collection Flights of Love. Skillfully translated by John E. Woods, the seven stories take up the themes of guilt, change and choice that were used so successfully in The Reader to examine the interpenetration of private and public worlds and the individual search for identity in a particular society. Writing against the background of generational guilt that has haunted German fiction since the...
(The entire section is 829 words.)
SOURCE: Markovits, Benjamin. “Are Words Pointless?” London Review of Books 24, no. 6 (21 March 2002): 32-3.
[In the following review, Markovits judges Flights of Love to be an inferior follow-up to The Reader, asserting that the collection lacks adequate feeling and depth to support Schlink's larger thematic concerns.]
The generation battle, in its particular post-Third-Reich incarnation, runs through Bernhard Schlink's work, both his bestselling The Reader and Flights of Love, a collection of short stories loosely arranged around various break-ups and infidelities. Reviewers tend to discuss the books together, partly because Flights of Love develops plots, characters and arguments already present in The Reader, but mostly because The Reader is better, more interesting even in its failures than this sequel. The Reader is a first-person account of a boy's love affair with an illiterate older woman, Hanna, and his subsequent discovery that she had acted as a concentration camp guard in her youth. It has won great praise for its sensitive portrayal of a nearly impossible subject, and drawn angry criticism for its insensitive portrayal of a nearly impossible subject: a lesson that impossible subjects and heightened sensitivities tend to produce a range of responses. Critics have pointed out that the book's premise wrongly suggests that German...
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SOURCE: Evenson, Brian. Review of Flights of Love, by Bernhard Schlink. Review of Contemporary Fiction 22, no. 1 (spring 2002): 142-43.
[In the following review, Evenson compliments the range of stories in Flights of Love.]
The author of the best-selling The Reader returns with [Flights of Love,] a collection of seven stories vaguely linked by notions of connection and love. The stories themselves, though largely traditional in feel and in their approach to character, show Schlink to be a careful and consummate stylist, someone genuinely aware of the possibilities of working within established form. The characters develop and reach epiphanies, and Schlink generally manages, through slight and subtle means, to convey a genuine sense of what it means to be human. “Girl with Lizard” explores a man's obsession with a painting and the way in which that obsession changes his life. “A Little Fling,” more politically charged, is about relationships between individuals in East and West Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In “The Other Man,” a man discovers after his wife's death that she had had an affair and begins writing to her former lover in the voice of his wife. The main character in “The Circumcision” secretly has himself circumcised out of love for his Jewish girlfriend, but his show of support doesn't quite turn out the way he expects. “Sugar Peas,”...
(The entire section is 290 words.)
Angier, Carole. “Approaches and Escapes.” Spectator 288, no. 9055 (23 February 2002): 36-7.
Angier suggests that Flights of Love has been underrated by English critics.
Bernstein, Richard. “Once Loving, Once Cruel, What's Her Secret?” New York Times (20 August 1997): C16.
Bernstein praises Schlink's prose style in The Reader.
Finn, Stephen M. “Truth without Reconciliation?: The Question of Guilt and Forgiveness in Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader.” South African Journal of Philosophy 20, nos. 3-4 (2001): 308-19.
Finn examines the problematic issues of guilt, remorse, and forgiveness in The Reader and Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, arguing that both books raise questions about the limits of forgiveness and the conditions, both historical and moral, for absolving crimes against humanity.
Klein, Julia M. “Schlink Evokes Certain Realities but Eludes Moral Certainties.” Chronicle of Higher Education (7 December 2001): B18.
Klein provides an overview of Schlink's fiction, including his crime novels, and discusses Schlink's historical and thematic concerns as well as the critical response to his work.
Lewis, Tess. “Postwar Solipsisms.”...
(The entire section is 385 words.)