‘Olga’: A searching novel with a fresh take on love and loss

Like ‘The Reader’, best-selling author Bernhard Schlink’s latest offering is another literary feat.

olga a searching novel with a fresh take on love and loss - ‘Olga’: A searching novel with a fresh take on love and loss

Most widely known for his international bestseller The Reader, which was made into a feature film starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, the German writer has charmed audiences once again with his newest release.

Olga is a realistic story about love, loss, change and resilience, woven into literary magic by Schlink’s unique writing style.

Brimming with moving imagery, strong, inspirational characters and a poignant tale of forbidden love, this novel will take you on an incredible journey into the world of Prussia at the turn on the 20th century.

Novel a powerful examination of past and present

Moving away from the fast-moving, constantly thrilling and decadent love stories we see so much of these days, Olga makes the reader slow down and forces us to really look at how love, hate and change affect people.

It looks at love and history not through rose-coulored glasses, but rather through experience, a way to examine the past from the position of the present.

‘Olga’ an intimate exploration of relationships, people and change

Olga is an orphan raised by her grandmother in a Prussian village around the turn of the 20th century. Clever and precocious, she fights against the prejudices of the time to find her place in a world that sees her as second best.

When she falls in love with Herbert, a local aristocrat obsessed with the era’s dreams of power, glory and greatness, her life is irremediably changed.

Theirs is a love against all odds, entwined with the twisting paths of German history, leading us from the late 19th to the early 21st century, from Germany to Africa and the Arctic, from the Baltic Sea to the German south-west.

This is the story of that love and of Olga’s devotion to a restless man — told in thought, letters and in a fateful moment of great rebellion.

Deceivingly simple writing at first glance

Readers should not look simply for an adventurous and fast-paced novel here. Even though Olga does move quickly, often skipping over decades, the story is not one for adrenaline-junkie readers, but rather for the more slower, more intent reader.

The writing style is unique and thus will not be for everyone. Rather like Marmite, some will love it and some will just not enjoy it.

The style is simple, almost too simple, because the book reads so easily, but just because it is simple does not mean it is not well crafted. In fact, it is the opposite: the uncomplicated writing style means the reader becomes privy to complex characters, and their intricate and messy feelings.

Schlink’s writing style is a union of opposites and joins together simple language and the complicated jumble of life which it describes.

‘Olga’: Memorable quotes

“Herbert and Victoria found Olga’s interest in their world, her curiosity and admiration, irresistible. The fact that they became friends with her so quickly showed how lonely they had been without knowing it.”

“His longing touched her like the longing of a child for the world. But because he was no longer a child, she sensed in his longing, in his question, in his running, a desperation of which he was not yet aware.”

“Everyone [in the cemetary] lay together, from the Indians who had died of the past to people of today who had died of the present. It was a place of equality, and death had lost its horror.”

“What is longing? Sometimes it’s like an object that can’t be ignored, can’t be moved, that often blocks the way, but belongs in the room.”

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Bernhard Schlink is a German lawyer, academic and novelist. Image: Getty Images

Besides writing award-winning literature, Schlink is also a lawyer and academic.

Throughout his illustrious career, Schlink also served as a judge on the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and became a professor for public law and the philosophy of law at Humboldt University.

He has won many awards for his work, both academic and literary, which include the Prix Laure Bataillon prize as well as the Heinrich Heine Prize.

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