German novelist Bernhard Schlink, a former judge and professor of law, began his writing career in the 1980s with several professional manuals and a literate crime fiction series featuring a detective named Selb (German for "self"). He became a worldwide sensation with the international best seller The Reader in 1995. The Weekend, originally published in 2008, is his ninth work of fiction.
The Story: Jörg, a former member of the left-wing Baader-Meinhof Group, has just been released from prison after serving a 24-year sentence for murder. In celebration, his overprotective sister Christiane has arranged a weekend house party to reacquaint him with his old friends, who she hopes will guide his transition into a legitimate life. However, while Jörg's friends flirted with radical ideologies in college, they have since rejoined society--working, marrying, and raising families. Jörg, however, insulated from social pressures in prison, still remains faithful to his radical beliefs. As Christiane's guests reminisce and argue about the past, Jörg's soul hangs in the balance, hesitating between activism and assimilation.
Pantheon. 224 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307378156
"In The Weekend, Bernhard Schlink has produced another terse and coolly voiced fictional examination of his country's modern history: as much biopsy as novel. ... What Schlink is mostly interested in, and what he does best here, is exploring his nation's character." Richard Eder
"There's a fair bit of subtext that readers who aren't familiar with the concept of collective guilt will gloss over. But Schlink never sacrifices the plot for a morality lesson." Rob Merrill
New York Times
"How does the Germany of today deal with the burdens of its past? The range of responses is neatly represented by the varied guests, who search Jörg for signs of shameful remorse, romantic idealism or pathos." Patricia Cohen
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Will Jorge repent the suffering he caused not only his victims but his own family? Should he? Questions rise, sink, and in the end are abandoned. The broody, disjointed voices mull about, rarely coalescing." Tricia Springstubb
"It feels as if [Schlink] has deceived himself into believing he can dissect the worst barbarism of the past century with a chisel instead of an open and wounded heart. His writing smacks of self-pity and reveals a man still averse to the grueling work of self-reflection." Elaine Margolin
San Francisco Chronicle
"The static plot of The Weekend does little to enliven [Schlink's] themes, which sprawl awkwardly in the corners of Christiane's crumbling mansion waiting for the characters to pick them up and hurl them at one another in the form of short essays spoken as dialogue. ... One gets the sense that this could have been an excellent book if only Schlink were not so intent on keeping his characters slouching irritably around a country estate, speechifying at one another." Yael Goldstein Love
NY Times Book Review
"What makes this a bad novel is that the characters are dead on the page. They are cutout types to whom the author has tacked arguments and opinions to keep the conversation going, but nothing more than that, despite the sexual couplings that go on when people run out of things to say." Ian Buruma
Schlink's latest foray into fiction is far more concerned with ideas than with plot development and characterization. Some critics were able to overlook this unusual format--a continuous succession of conversations--in favor of his astute exploration of the character and collective struggle of a country still mired in the horrors of its past. Schlink skillfully mines the tension between the passionate idealism of youth and the nagging uncertainties of middle age in "a cross between The Big Chill and a talky, Jean-Luc Godard film" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Conversely, critics seeking a more conventional novel rued the sluggish plot, lifeless characters, and unanswered questions. Readers willing to forego these traditional features will likely appreciate the moral complexities unearthed in The Weekend.
Also by the Author
The Reader (1997): In the late 1950s, a teenage boy's passionate affair with an older woman ends abruptly when she inexplicably disappears. Seven years later, the boy, now a young law student, chances on his former lover in court, where she is on trial for a terrible crime.
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT!
The Reading Guide below is supplied by the book's publisher, and plot points may be revealed. We recommend that read the book before reading the guide.
1. The book opens with Christiane picking Jörg up from the prison entrance. His sister has visited him every two weeks for the last twenty-four years, yet their first meeting is tense and restrained. Do you think Jörg is concerned about the way people are going to see him, or is it simply dealing with the feeling of freedom?
2. Although there are others present when Henner arrives at the estate, he is the first of Jörg’s friends to be introduced. Do you think Henner’s profession as a journalist makes him more objective when looking at Jörg’s life?
3. During the first meal at which everyone is gathered, Ulrich is particularly harsh toward Jörg. While everyone else is making polite conversation, Ulrich wants to know, “What was the worst thing about jail?” When people object to Ulrich’s questions, he defends himself by saying, “Why shouldn’t I ask him about his life? He chose it—just as you chose yours and I chose mine.” Do you think Ulrich is correct? Do we have so much choice in life?
4. Ilse’s writings about Jan are a parallel plot to the main story. She seems to be trying to grant herself closure by giving Jan’s life meaning. How do you feel about her suggesting Jan had something to do with 9/11, and still giving him an emancipating end?
5. Ulrich’s daughter, Dorle, makes a big scene near the beginning of the book, but she was not one of Jörg’s friends, and seems to completely change after her initial commotion. How does the character of Dorle fit with the rest of the characters, and why do you think the author included her?
6. Jörg’s son, Ferdinand, arrives late to the gathering. He and his father haven’t been in contact, and Christiane says, “He’s become the person they brought up.” Yet Ferdinand does come for the weekend, despite his feelings about his father’s past. Do you think Jörg and Ferdinand will have a relationship afterwards?
7. Christiane has had a relationship with Henner and Margarete, but her real love is for her brother. Do you think Henner and Margarete are attracted to each other in spite of Christiane, or because of her? Has so much time passed for all of them that the past relationships don’t matter anymore?
8. Marko Hahn believes that Jörg can still live as a symbol to the revolutionary cause. Christiane believes Jörg can change his life and become something separate from his past. Andreas just wants to keep his friend out of public dealings. Do you think any of these things are possible?
9. Karin, as the vicar, tries to keep peace among the parties, but even she is torn by memories of what the friends did in their youth in the name of revolution, of passion and belief in truth. Is it moral responsibility that has changed their beliefs, or, as Marko claims, complacency in life?
10. Jörg claims that he doesn’t remember the murders he committed, and several of the others seem to have forgotten the details of what happened twenty-five years before. Do you think it is possible to thoroughly block out the details of such terrible events? Do you think, from the victim’s standpoint, it is acceptable to let them be forgotten?
11. It is revealed that Christiane was the one who led police to Jörg, because she wanted to protect him. Marko seems more angry about this betrayal than Jörg himself. What do you think about Christiane’s act?
12. Jörg claims he has paid enough for the murders, but his son disagrees. “You haven’t paid for what you did—you’ve forgiven yourself for it. Presumably even before you did it. But only the others can forgive you. And they don’t.” Jörg killed in the name of the revolution, but his son sees the individuals that were affected. Is killing in the name of truth ever acceptable?
13. What do you think of Jörg’s revelation at the end? Do you feel sorry for him? Do you think he has paid for what he has done?
14. Looking back at your own life, was there a cause that you felt passionately about that you barely remember now? Why did you let that cause go? How do you feel about it now?
15. How do you think the characters will be changed by the weekend? Who do you think will be most affected?