Bernhard Schlink: The Weekend – Das Wochenende (2008)

Old friends and lovers reunite for a weekend in a secluded country home after spending decades apart. They plumb their memories of each other and pass quiet judgements on the life decisions each has made since their youth. This isn’t, however, just any old reunion, and their conversations of the old days aren’t typical reminiscences. After 24 years, Joerg – a convicted murderer and terrorist, is released from prison on a pardon. 

Bernhard Schlink Week, hosted by Judith (Reader in the Wilderness), is part of German Literature Month. We had the option to choose either a literary  or one of the crime novels. I opted for the first. I have read The Reader a few years ago and liked it. It’s well-written, carefully constructed, thought-provoking and suspenseful. No wonder it was a bestseller. It took me a while to decide which of his novels I should read. Since I’m interested in the history of the RAF (Red Army Fraction), I felt like reading The Weekend – Das Wochenende which tells the story of Jörg, former terrorist, who is amnestied by the president, after 20 years in prison. To ease him into this transition his sister Christiane, invited the old friends to her house in the country, to spend a weekend together.

Family weekends or holidays are tropes I love because they often manage to look under the surface; taken out of their daily lives and put together, people clash and reveal their carefully hidden and often ugly feelings. To choose this setting for the homecoming of his protagonist wasn’t a bad choice but the way it was written was awfully bad. While there were a few scenes I liked and although it was a quick read, the melodramatic tone, the trite symbolism – the book starts on Friday and ends on Sunday with a “redemptive” scene in which everyone helps to carry buckets of water which flooded the cellar after a torrential rain (hello, heavy-handed allusion) – just didn’t do it for me. Add cancer, a budding love story between two elderly people who don’t need to fall in love as they are mature and therefore can skip the intro – read – jump into bed without the nervous fussing  – …

What’s really bad is that this is a book about terrorism. A terrorism which was a reaction to Germany’s post-war attempts at forgetting the past and leaving the old Nazis in prominent places. A terrorism which protested against imperialism, bigotry and hypocrisy. While initially in her first wave the RAF didn’t want to harm or kill people, the second wave became much more aggressive and violent and didn’t shy away from murder. Jörg is exemplary of this second wave. But nothing is shown, or discussed. There are just people with opinions, sitting together, eating and discussing. Each character serves as a vehicle expressing the one or the other opinion on terrorism.

The German newspaper critics hated this book. The readers on amazon like it. I don’t always agree with critics but in this case I have to. This is a book written like a corny genre novel and the only thing interesting about it is the topic but it’s not treated well. I don’t know any more than before reading it. Jörg says that there was a war on and that it was normal that people got killed in a war. On the other hand he is crying over getting old and being ill…. A sentimental man who pretends he doesn’t care that he killed people? That doesn’t work for me.

The book was published in 2008, just half a year after Brigitte Mohnhaupt was amnestied, while Christain Klar was not. It’s ok to be topical in novels but this book makes me think Schlink wanted to exploit something.

At the end of the year we write our Best of lists. I always add one or two worst of books, books that I found so bad that in some cases they infuriated me. The Weekend will be on the list. It’s insufferably botched.

39 thoughts on “Bernhard Schlink: The Weekend – Das Wochenende (2008)

  1. Vishy has convinced me to read The Reader and you have convinced me to pass on this one. I don’t even have the heart to see if this one is on my list. I’m pretty sure The Reader is.

    • I’m pretty sure this one isn’t. 🙂 LSomeone reviewed it last year and she quite liked it. Vishy told me that he saw one very favourable and one very harsh reviwe somewhere.

  2. I did enjoy this but get your point it was maybe him in the motions ,I wonder if this was half an idea that maybe didn’t work as well as hoped the raf is due a great book about them ,all the best stu

    • It had a few moments but all in all, I don’t know but a lot didn’t work for me and it wasn’t a topic for him.
      Rainald Goetz one of the most radical and highly accalimed German writers has written a novel on the RAF – Kontrolliert. He should be translated. His book Irre (Crazy) is amazing.

  3. Seems Schlink is patchy.

    I’ve seen more bad reviews of The Weekend than good, so it’s not on my TBR. Neither am I a fan of The Reader – can’t see what the fuss is about and I agree with Guy. The film is much better than the book.

    I did like “Summer Lies” a lot. Just written a 5-star review over at my place.

    • I just saw your rating, I’ll read the review later. I’m glad you liked yours. I should have listened to Vishy who liked Homecoming so much… But no, I had to pick this dud.

  4. What a shame! The idea is a really good one and that time in the 70s when the RAF were active was such an interesting time in Germany’s social history. Quite a meaty subject and treated properly may have made a great read. I’m sorry not to have taken part in the Schlink read-along. I read The Reader a while ago and loved it. It’s a shame he seems so inconsistent.

    • Yes, he really seesm inconsistent. I’ve seen Lizzy’s latest post and 5 stars coming from her is high praise.
      I’m very disappointed because I find the whole political situation in the 70s, the RAF so interesting too.

  5. I’ve read The Reader and to say I wasn’t blown away is an understatement.

    I’ll stay away from this one.

    (Actually, I’ve never been blown away by a German book. I haven’t chosen the right ones, probably.)

    • Once again, I realize that some of the best authors have not been trasnlated, so I can understand you. Most books I liked a lot were Austrian. Interesting, no? I liked The Reader but read it a long time ago. Only I never found it was that literary, it’s an entertaining book on a serious topic.

  6. Too bad that this was so disappointing. It sounds like the plot had so much potential.

    I actually had never heard of the RAF though I knew that there were several similar groups active in Western nations at the time.

  7. Oh, I doubt I’ll ever get to read anything by Schlink because I see too many dissenting opinions! Literally seconds after reading Lizzy’s effusive review (of another book), I see this one…

    • I really understand your reaction and since you read German it’s not as if you had to ready everything that’s translated. But judging from Lizzy’s review, I think he writes good short stories. 🙂

  8. Every so often a book comes along that’s just a pig!

    I have The Reader to read, and will one of these days, probably not for this GLM. I am loving Schnitzler’s Dream Story, though, and wrote a post on Rilke today that I hope can be considered part of the month’s celebrations. I forget how much I love German literature, and it’s wonderful to be reminded.

    • You made me laugh out loud. A pig! Ha.
      I’m really happy to hear you like Schnitzler. I’m a speedy one, your Rilke post has been added to our page the moment you published it!
      There is a lot of wonderful German literature, I agree, especially coming from Austria and Prague.

  9. I have been so remiss in commenting on your posts though I have been reading them.
    I read The Reader several years ago and liked it, however I could see the tendencies in the writing to lean toward the extreme ends of what I would consider enjoyable. Thank you for letting me know this one is a pass.

    • It would be interesting to know what exactly you didn’t like.
      No need for excuses, Jackie, I’m the baddie – but that e-mail will come. I’m still thinking about it. Once you get it you’ll know why it took so long.
      Skip The Weekend, indeed. Summer Lies seems to be a wonderful cllection of short stories though.

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  11. Sorry to know that you didn’t like this book, Caroline! It is sad that it was so bad that it is going into your ‘worst’ books list. I was hoping to read it sometime but now after reading your review, I am thinking whether I should.

    • I hate writing such negative reviews but I couldn’t help it. I found the pairing of such a domestic setting and reflections on terrorism awful. And the writing is heavy handed. There are many passages in which each charcater is mentionedlike this ” X passed the butter, y gave me the bread, z handed me the sausages….” He has written quite a few novels you haven’t read yet, I think, and which people like… there are others to try first.

  12. Oh dear. After the general praise for The Reader (and what a fantastic film it made too!) it seems that this one is a bit of a dummy – even hitting your “worst of ” list. Well, at least I don’t have to bother reading it if I come across it.

    An interesting review – nicely informative.

    • Thanks, Tom. It certainly was a very bad book in my opinion and I wasn’t surprised the reception in Germany was so harsh. Plus it’s badly written, full of corny metaphors.

  13. My library only has The Reader, which I already read, so I had to pass on reading Schlink (I am still reading the Noll but did finish an Arthur Schnitzler book that I need to write about this weekend). It sounds like an interesting premise and I like what you say at the beginning about using the weekend as the setting for a story–too bad this one just didn’t work!

    • I like this type of setting but it was to mundane, too domestic for the topic. And the writing was soo bad.
      I think Summer Lies is well worth reading though ad since you like short stories, I’m sure it would be for you too.
      I’m curious to find out which Schnitzler it was.

  14. sorry you didn’t like the book Caroline. I wonder why someone could write something good like The Reader, as you have said (I am not sure it’s my kind of read), then goes bad with other book.

    I also recently read (more like listen, it’s an audiobook) a book which I hated but didn’t write about it…maybe I should do it when I write my top 5 book of the year.

  15. Pingback: German Literature Month – Book Review – The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink « Vishy’s Blog

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