20 February 2011
Book Review: Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink
In my reading, Bernhard Schlink is now 2 for 2. I thought The Reader was amazing, and while I don't think the plot of Homecoming is as tight as The Reader, it is still a compelling, well-written novel that encouraged all the appropriate emotional reactions. And like The Reader, Homecoming deals with the Nazi legacy in Germany. Regular folks trying to deal with (or forget about) their individual or collective culpability in genocide. Unlike The Reader, however, Homecoming takes a more philosophical look at good and evil and never really broaches the details of Nazi barbarism explicitly.
In Homecoming Schlink weaves the tale of Peter Debauer who attempts to track down the ending of a novel. He has an incomplete proof copy of a novel that his Swiss grandparent's edited that is missing not only the ending but also any indication of author or title. Peter's search for the ending and the identity of the author lead him not only to find love but also to discover more than a few secrets about his past. (As Peter tries to track down people and publications all I could think about was how much easier it would have been if Google had been around. It was to the point where I found myself having a hard time imagining how he could even attempt his searches without the Internet. Amazing how the "old" ways can disappear so quickly.)
I am tempted to say that Schlink writes historical and legal fiction, but I am not sure if his work would really fit into those genre. It seems too readable for that. His writing is never pedantic nor pedagogical. The points of history or law introduced into his novels are expertly woven into the emotional, relationship-oriented drama. His characters and their motivations, while sometimes alien to the reader, are wholly believable. And you find yourself caring quite a bit about the characters. As I mentioned earlier, the plot in Homecoming wasn't as tight as it could have been. There are a few twists and turns that are too pat. And there are others that seemed rather clumsy. Like Schlink had too much he wanted to say. Still, there is nothing in this criticism that should keep you from reading Homecoming. There is much here that makes you think, and perhaps more importantly for a novel, makes you feel.
[It is hard to mention The Reader without mentioning the amazing film adaptation. I really thought that was a fantastic film. And Kate Winslet is easily one of the best actors of our time.]