Monday, January 21, 2008

On the moral high ground - Edward Marriott meets Bernhard Schlink

From The Observer, Sunday 20 January.

German lawyer Bernhard Schlink's bestselling novels tackle the guilt of his own generation in relation to the war. His latest, Homecoming, is intimately linked with his own experience ...

There is a moment at the end of Bernhard Schlink's 1997 bestseller The Reader - shortly to be filmed by Stephen Daldry, starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes - where the narrator, Michael Berg, trying to make sense of his teenage love affair with a woman who is later tried for war crimes, picks up Homer's Odyssey. He remembers it 'as the story of a homecoming. But it is not the story of a homecoming ... Odysseus does not return home to stay, but to set off again.'

The same search for an elusive home is central to Schlink's finely tuned new novel,
Homecoming. The protagonist, Peter Debauer, is on the scent of a father he's
never known. As a boy, he comes across an unfinished manuscript that tells the
story of a German soldier's postwar odyssey home. But how does the story end?
Debauer begins a search both for the missing pages of the manuscript and for
his real father.

In common with much of Schlink's fiction, the story of the unfinished manuscript has intimate
connections with his own experience. Like Debauer, Schlink, who was born in
1944, spent his summers in Switzerland, travelling by train from his parents'
home in Heidelberg to his mother's parents in Switzerland. As in Homecoming,
Schlink's real-life grandparents ran their own publishing company reprinting
pulp novels. Schlink would use the reverse of the page proofs for his
homework. Disobeying his grandparents' injunction never to read the other
side, he found himself stumbling on the story of the returning soldier, a tale
that, as in Homecoming, was missing its ending.

The full story.......

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