June 28

Olga by Bernhard Schlink

Well look at me go Readheads – two reviews in two days after weeks of silence. When it rains reviews Readheads, it pours.

So let’s chat about Olga and let’s talk about Bernhard Schlink.

I always love a bit of Bernhard and I had to go back to my 2017 review of his last book The Reader on the Stairs to remind myself exactly why – that thing that is particularly Schlinkian. Ta da …. there was the answer. SHORT CHAPTERS! Oh the joy of them. And when I say short, I mean 3 pages! Every single one of them.

You do feel pretty chuffed with yourself going to sleep thinking ‘woot, 6 chapters tonight’. A satisfying experience indeed (versus the nightmare of being tired, reading 15 pages and trying to push through to the end of the chapter to discover another 20 before it ends. Shoot me).

So Bernhard holds true to short and sharp to tell the story of Olga, an orphan raised by her grandmother in a small Prussian village around the turn of the 20th century. She befriends the children of the local aristocrat and over time, the son Herbert and she fall in love. But she is not good enough for the family and their love is conducted in secret over years and years….and y e a r s.

The story is broken into three parts.

The first tells of Olga’s life – loving Herbert, growing up, becoming a teacher, watching those around her as war comes, goes and devastates. Primarily it tells of her saying goodbye to Herbert – over and over after he travels to distant lands exploring until he disappears and is presumed dead to everyone but Olga.

The second part is told through the voice of the son of the family Olga sews for in her older years and spans their ensuing friendship.

Part three belongs to Olga’s and the final stage of the book is only told through Olga’s letters to Herbert sent across decades. Nothing in between. Just the letters.

This section was my favourite because – unlike the previous two – Schlink unleashes Olga and her wildness, independence, passion and fury as revealed in her words sent to a silent Herbert.

Like his other books, the true character of the woman is revealed at the end. You’re glad you stuck it out. Olga’s no different. She is a firecracker in more ways than one.

I”l leave you to read it and see exactly what I mean by that.

But that is just my two cents worth.