Bernhard Schlink's The Weekend revolves around a convicted terrorist's release from prison and his reunion with his sister, former friends, and son over a turbulent three days in a country house in Germany. The novel proceeds much as a play would proceed--Chekhov, for instance, or possibly O'Neill-- with its characters revealing themselves, rejecting one another and accepting one another in a series of encounters around the house and its grounds.
Having lived and worked in Germany, I have a sense of how compelling Germans would find this examination of the days of the Red Army Faction's thefts, kidnappings, and killings. I don't know if American readers will "get it," since we really haven't been exposed to such extended, high-profile acts of "revolutionary" violence. Perhaps that doesn't matter too much. The Weekend certainly requires politics and history as narrative armatures upon which to array its characters, but the poignancy and interest here lies in the quieter internal life struggles these characters bring to the reunion.
Schlink's cast is varied and realistic: a troubled female minister, an inflexible, pragmatic businessman, a journalist who feels he has reported a bit more than he has lived, a young revolutionary who idolizes the now released terrorist and wants him to endorse, once again, revolutionary acts and protests, a young girl who wants desperately to find her way into the flow of passions that swirls around her, an abandoned son who is very skeptical about his notorious father...
The key to this novel's effectiveness is not focusing on the public's reaction to Jorg's release, though that element is present. Rather, The Weekend succeeds through quiet understatement, a relative lack of overreaction, and a close focus on the moments and settings in which each character has a turn or two in center stage.
I won't give away the novel's ending, but I will say that I find it somewhat smarmy. There is a kind of nostalgia for human solidarity here that seems forced. At best it is perhaps saying that the past--Germany's past--has no future. That's no doubt a good thing and worth pondering.
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