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Olga Reviews

Olga by Prof Bernhard Schlink, Charlotte Collins


Prof Bernhard Schlink, Charlotte Collins

3.67 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publication date: 12 Nov 2020
ISBN: 9781474611138

The life of one woman - Olga - from late 19th century Prussia to modern Germany. A novel of love, passion and History from beloved modern master Bernhard Schlink.

4 stars out of 5
13 Dec 2020

"a searching examination of Germany's scarred soul"

Olga diagnoses Germany’s problem as one of grandness, which, she grumbles, is thanks to Bismarck. "Ever since he had seated Germany on a horse too big for it to ride, the Germans had wanted everything too grand." She sees it in the men whose lives she touches: her student Eik, who fantasises about the open steppes and joins the SS; Ferdinand’s student-y moral smugness in the 60s; and most of all, in Herbert. As a teenager, he decides to become an Übermensch, "that he would make Germany great and become great with Germany, even if it required him to be cruel to himself and to others".

Schlink pursues this theme perhaps a little relentlessly, but there’s a sophisticated precision to his writing, which is superbly translated by Charlotte Collins. And in Schlink’s macro look at Germany’s past, it’s the small acts – of kindness and humility – that linger.


4 stars out of 5
10 Dec 2020

"a poignant tale of one woman’s journey amid the history of turn-of-century Prussia"

This is not a straightforward elegy — and throughout the book, death is not an absolute end. Instead, Schlink frames the novel as a search for meaning, which dances in Olga between a multitude of timeframes and territories. This is painfully, perhaps most movingly portrayed in Herbert’s Arctic progress, which quickly is halted by natural forces, his ship lost in the ice. Olga reads a newspaper account of the mission, and sees that the “illustrator had done drawings from photographs, a few thin black lines that Olga thought looked like caricatures. 

3 stars out of 5
17 Nov 2020

"This poignant tale of a mismatched couple in turn-of-the-century Germany gives away its secrets too early"

Schlink deals swiftly with Germany’s colonial aspirations in south-west Africa, the Herero genocide and its role in two world wars, while Olga’s life is related in careful, unadorned prose ... We guess the major reveals will come in the novel’s epistolary section. The letters confirm Olga’s stoicism, her love of simple pleasures and contain two secrets that, frustratingly, Schlink has already given away. Olga is a poignant portrait of a woman out of step with her time, but too predictable to truly satisfy.