Author: Bernhard Schlink
Translator: Shaun Whiteside
Published: 2008 (translated version: 2010)
Hardcover: 215 pages
My Rating: 2.5 stars
Synopsis (from borders.com): Old friends and lovers reunite for a weekend in a secluded country home after spending decades apart.
They excavate old memories and pass clandestine judgments on the wildly divergent paths they’ve taken since their youth. But this isn’t just any reunion, and their conversations about the old days aren’t your typical reminiscences: After twenty-four years, Jörg, a convicted murderer and terrorist, has been released from prison. The announcement of his pardon will send shock waves through the country, but before the announcement, his friends—some of whom were Baader-Meinhof sympathizers or those who clung to them—gather for his first weekend of freedom. They have been summoned by Jörg’s devoted sister, Christiane, whose concern for her brother’s safety is matched only by the unrelenting zeal of Marko, a young man intent on having Jörg continue to fight for the cause.
My Thoughts: I really didn't know what to expect from this book, so I went in with no expectations. I read the synopsis and thought that it sounded intriguing, and having read Bernhard Schlink's The Reader a few years ago, I thought that I might enjoy this work. Now, the 2.5 stars rating that I gave this book is a bit misleading. It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, but it wasn't something that had me rushing back to it. I felt no pull from the plot or characters, which is why it took me so long to finish. I think the plot for the book was a great one, with old friends reuniting after one of them has been released from a 20 year prison stay. How would they all interact? Would it be like the old times, or would it be awkward now? But there was no pull, nothing that made me want to know what happened.
Schlink's writing style reminds me a bit of Hemmingway, with short, descriptive sentences. His writing did seem a bit jumpy to me in this one, and it took me abour 40 pages to figure out from whose point of view the story was being told. But he describes the setting so wonderfully, I felt like I was at this old house in the German countryside along with the characters. Schlink is also a master at not having an opinion on his characters. You are unable to tell if you should root for Jorg (the reformed convict and terrorist) or hope he winds up back in jail. It really is up to you to decide if the character is good or bad, and I believe that demonstrates the strength of Schlink's abilities as an author.
There are a lot of characters in this book, and the German names sometimes had me confused as to who was married to whom and what the relationships were between the characters. I felt that each person contributed something to the story, an opinion that allowed you to constantly question yourself as to whether or not you like Jorg. For being such a short book with a large cast of characters, it's hard to say if there was any growth among them. I felt like there was some development with a few characters at the end of the book, but it felt too rushed.
The plot is great, and I felt like I was reading a movie script the whole time. In fact, if this were made into a movie, this would be one that I would want to see. It has all the makings of a great movie, with the cast of characters, the scenery, and the issues that each characters is battling.