The German emeritus law professor and novelist Bernhard Schlink (b. 1944 in Bielefeld) reached millions of readers with his fourth novel, The Reader, and that even before the film adaptation won awards at the Oscars and Golden Globes. He later published the novels Homecoming, The Weekend and The Woman on the Stairs.
He is now coming to Passa Porta for an exclusive conversation about his new novel, Olga.
Interview: Els Snick
about the novel
A village around 1900 in the east of the German Empire. Olga is an orphan, Herbert the son of the local landowner. They fall in love, but given their class difference, Herbert’s parents believe that Olga is no match for their son. Nevertheless, the two lovers always manage to be together, even when Olga moves as a teacher to a small town and Herbert follows his romantic ideas about Russia, Africa and America and goes off travelling. He dreams of colonial power and, like Amundsen, wishes to conquer the polar regions. But Olga is doubtful. He is neither tenacious nor a shrewd planner. The expedition sets out far too late in the year and one day Olga no longer receives any news from her lover. Because she wants to keep their connection alive, she writes to him once a week at ‘Poste restante, Tromsø, Norway’.
In Olga, the narrator sketches an evocative portrait of a woman who had to experience how not only her lover, but also a whole population lost touch with reality. Deafened by the tumult of war and forced to flee the Russians, Olga starts up a new life in a small German town. She sews new clothes out of old uniforms, and that is how she makes the acquaintance of the young narrator, Ferdinand. He is fascinated by this mysterious woman with her straightforward ideas. What she has to say is unlike anything he thought he knew about life. After Olga’s death, he goes in search of her love letters in Norway and buys them from a second-hand bookseller at a steep price. But the contents of the letters are even more fascinating than anything she had ever told him.
Photo: Gaby Gerster