Tag Archives: Bernhard Schlink

Flights of Love

I cannot think of an uglier title, but there it is. This collection found its way from Rizal Library to my desk last month, to be finished only at the close of 2010. (Okay, to be fair, I did bring it home with me, but only because I had been looking for The Reader and found it lodged behind this and I thought, Why not?) While I do not begrudge the time it took from me (it was not at all unpleasant to read), the book leaves me no lasting impression. I finished it barely two days ago, and already the memory of it is fading.

Aside from “Girl with Lizard”, the obvious pick of the collection, the stories are largely unremarkable. Most interested me on the intellectual level, but I did not feel emotionally invested in the characters except for two: the boy in “Girl with Lizard” intrigued me from the start; and in “Sugar Peas” I recognized a much better example of what Marx Lopez once described as a “broken man” in one of my stories. The earlier piece caught my attention with its eerie atmosphere, the feeling that it’s showing me something without actually revealing, as if it’s only tracing edges and wants me to figure things out for myself. I enjoyed it a lot, though towards the end I felt it was doling out too much information, making the story more difficult to follow and veering it away from the central figure.

Things went downhill after that. Yet somehow Schlink managed to keep me reading his long stories (each around fifty pages). I was often shocked by page numbers, amazed at what I had plowed through already. Curious plots and premises (as well as the book’s attractive layout) persuaded me not to let go. I wanted to know what would happen next, so I kept reading until I reached the endings, even if they sometimes disappointed me.

Schlink shows an uncanny skill for depicting tiny details that make his stories seem real, accurately rendering the trivialities of existence. I admire this ability of his, and am sad to say that the same inconsequentiality applies to his book. My experience of it, while not terrible, makes up only a negligible notch in my reading history, and the next time I see it in the library, I would not pick it up again.

Girl with Lizard

The face was a child’s face. But the eyes, the full lips, and the hair, which curled against the brow and fell to cover her back and shoulders, were not those of a child but of a woman.

He went on lying there even though he was cold now; as if he could somehow shiver away his being with her, pursuing her, struggling conceitedly to win her these past few months, the way you sweat out an illness.

‘For a while you have a choice. Do you want to do this or that, live with this person or that? But one day what it is you’re doing and that person have become your life, and to ask why you stick with your life is a rather stupid question.’

A Little Fling

With your first new acquaintances, a city begins to be home.

But then, what was once strange and different and far away, was suddenly near, commonplace, and bothersome.

The Other Man

‘Did you know that a shared sin binds the two sinners for life?’

She had held nothing back from him. She had given everything he had been capable of taking.

Sugar Peas

You have to be happy to make others happy.

The Circumcision

And so he trimmed his love smaller and smaller.

The Son

‘The secret of peace is exhaustion.’

The Woman at the Gas Station

He realized that their love had created a world that was more than the feeling they had for each other. Even when they had lost the feeling for each other, that world had been there.

No, that’s not how it’ll be. If we want each other now, we’ll want each other forever.

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The Reader

I borrowed this from Rizal Library after seeing a copy of it at a book sale and bypassing it, after an exercise of tremendous restraint. (At the time I was still under the false impression that I could live without purchasing books and merely borrowing from libraries. I gave up on this idea some time ago, when I was seized by a sudden yearning for books and ended up splurging more than half my part-time salary at the UP book sale.) I had high expectations for this novel because I really enjoyed its 2008 film adaptation, and experience has shown that most of the time original books are far better than their movie versions. The Reader disappointed me, however. While I absolutely loved the plot, which I felt was refreshingly original, I found its rendering inadequate and somewhat incomplete. Mostly I found the narrator too intrusive in his frequent monologues. As a firm believer in “show, don’t tell” rule, I did not like that he expounded excessively on his thoughts and feelings. More than once I felt that he was imposing himself unnecessarily on the situation instead of letting the events speak for themselves. But still, the novel does have its moments. One of its clear achievements is its startlingly beautiful, whole portrayal of Hanna Schmitz. I was especially marveled by Schlink’s handling of the last few pages, where Hanna’s physical disappearance only makes her come alive all the more.

I scanned some comments online and found that at least one critic has complained against the novel’s alleged attempt to make the reader sympathize with Hanna and by extension other Nazi soldiers. I disagree with that last bit. I admit that I sympathized with Hanna but I do not think that translates to granting her any sort of absolution, even just a partial one. I think it only allows for some understanding of her particular condition. The Holocaust was a horrific event, true, but that does not mean that we have to spend our whole lives pointing fingers at each other. The novel concerns itself so much with condemnation, and yes, justice has to be exacted, but I don’t think that should be our only response to situations like this. Much more important than punishing people is reconciling ourselves with an irrevocable past and deciding what to do from that point onwards.

It was more as if she had withdrawn into her own body, and left it to itself and its own quiet rhythms, unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world.

Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever?

It was as if I were condemned to ride forever in an empty car to nowhere.

After Hanna left the city, it took a while before I stopped watching for her everywhere, before I got used to the fact that afternoons had lost their shape, and before I could look at books and open them without asking myself whether they were suitable for reading aloud.

It wasn’t that I forgot Hanna. But at a certain point the memory of her stopped accompanying me wherever I went.

I wanted her far away from me, so unattainable that she could continue as the mere memory she had become and remained all these years.

I had met Hanna again on the benches as an old woman. She had looked like an old woman and smelled like an old woman. I hadn’t noticed her voice at all. Her voice had stayed young.