Truth and Freedom Lost in Translation

This is my review of The Weekend by Prof Bernhard Schlink.

Christiane collects her brother Jorg from gaol where he has served more than twenty years for Baader-Meinhof-style terrorism in Germany. She takes him straight to a week-end in a rundown country mansion with an assortment of old friends. This seems such a bad idea as to be highly implausible, but it is of course a device to enable the author, a lawyer by profession, to explore all the moral arguments associated with terrorism designed to overthrow a corrupt capitalist system and related questions of guilt, how our views and the situations themselves change over time.

In what I found the most interesting chapters (35 and 36), group members discuss to what extent "the truth makes you free" or rather that "freedom makes things true" which means "there are as many truths as people freely living their lives" – but also the "life lies" which people need to be able to keep on living. I wondered if the theme would have worked better as a play, but this would have made it harder to show the characters' thoughts.

Schlink introduces quite a large cast of characters, so that I understand why another reviewer felt the need to note them down: Ulrich, who abandoned his youthful radical leanings to become a respectable and law-abiding dentist, Henner who came from a similar privileged background and flirted with revolutionary ideas before taking up journalism, Karin the female bishop who conceals from her husband the fact that she had an abortion in her "wild" youth and rather enjoys playing the part of a respected member of the community, and so on.

Although I found the ideas and plot potentially very interesting, I nearly gave up on the book at several points because of the clumsy style of writing which may have been due to the translation. Many conversations seem very artificial, a crude vehicle for presenting ideas. Likewise many of the recollections are a heavy-handed way of filling the reader in on past events. Some potentially dramatic scenes go off kilter, such as Ulrich's unbelievably crass interrogation of Jorg at dinner on the lines of, "What about your first murder?" A young girl's attempt to seduce Jorg (Chapter 8) is another example of a confusing and poorly written scene. Some of the descriptions are very clunky e.g. "The residents of the village who have work don't have it here".

Schlink seems to be producing novels fairly frequently, but I wonder if he should take a little more time to hone his work in order to do justice to his deep concern with issues of guilt and morality in modern Germany, now extended to broader post 9/11 global conflicts.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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