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THE WEEKEND by Bernhard Schlink


by Bernhard Schlink translated by Shaun Whiteside

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-37815-6
Publisher: Pantheon

A tight literary contrivance by the novelist best known for The Reader (1997).

Imagine The Big Chill transplanted to the German countryside in the wake of 9/11 terrorism. As the title suggests, this narrative encompasses a single weekend, Friday through Sunday, which represents a reunion of those who were close (even lovers) during their university days, but who have seen their lives take significantly different paths. The impetus for the gathering is the pardon of Jörg, a convicted terrorist who has been imprisoned for more than two decades for the murder of at least four victims. His older sister, Christiane, has been like a mother to him (though some suspect a lover as well), and she has arranged for the gathering of former friends (and spouses and a few interlopers) to welcome her brother back to the world at the country house she shares with Margarete. Christiane and Margarete may or may not be lovers, though the romantic alliances that begin the novel are likely to shift before its end (or there would be no novel). Among the guests is a noted journalist who might be able to help Jörg make his case with the public. He was once Jörg’s best friend, later (and briefly) became the lover of Christiane and is suspected by Jörg of the tip to authorities that led to his arrest. There is also a back story, a gathering from some 30 years earlier, at a funeral for a friend to them all who mysteriously committed suicide. At least one of the friends believes that the suicide was a fake, that the purported suicide was also a terrorist who may still be alive. She spends the weekend writing a novel within the novel concerning this possibility, constructing a narrative that “she couldn’t research, but had to fantasize.” Jörg finds himself in a tug of war between a younger radical who wants him to issue an unrepentant proclamation and a lawyer who wants Jörg to cut ties with his terrorist past.

Amid ongoing revelation, all narrative strands (and there are many) are tied neatly by the end.