Back in 1999, Bernhard Schlink became a household name with the publication of his novel The Reader, which was later adapted into a film starring Kate Winslet. Schlink’s other works are not as well known, but they are just as powerful. To mark the paperback release of his latest book, The Woman on the Stairs, we’re revisiting a few of Schlink’s incredible novels and short stories that have captivated us over the years.
The Woman on the Stairs
In a museum far from home, a lawyer stumbles across a painting of a woman he once knew. Decades before, he had become entangled in her affairs when he was called on to settle a dispute between her husband and the painter of the work—who was also her lover. When, ultimately, the lawyer fell in love with her himself and risked everything for her, she mysteriously disappeared—along with the painting.
Now, face to face with the portrait once again, the lawyer must reconcile his past and present selves. When he eventually locates Irene, he is forced to confront the truth of his love—and the reality that his life has been irrevocably changed.
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
From Bernhard Schlink come seven provocative and masterfully calibrated stories. A keen dissection of the ways in which we play with truth and less-than-truth in our lives. Summer Lies brims with the delusions, the passions, the outbursts, and the sometimes-irrational justifications people make within a mélange of beautifully rendered relationships. In ”After the Season,” a man falls quickly in love with a woman he meets on the beach but wrestles with his incongruous feelings of betrayal after he learns she’s rich. A philandering playwright is accused of infidelity by his wife in “The Night in Baden-Baden,” but he sees her accusations as nothing more than a means to exculpate himself of his guilt as he carries on with his ways. And in “Stranger in the Night,” an obliging professor becomes an accomplice—not entirely unwittingly—to the temporary escape of a charismatic fugitive on a delayed flight from New York to Frankfurt.
Old friends and lovers reunite for a weekend in a secluded country home after spending decades apart. They excavate old memories and pass clandestine judgments on the wildly divergent paths they’ve taken since their youth. But this isn’t just any reunion, and their conversations about the old days aren’t your typical reminiscences: After twenty-four years, Jörg, a convicted murderer and terrorist, has been released from prison. The announcement of his pardon will send shock waves through the country, but before the announcement, his friends—some of whom were Baader-Meinhof sympathizers or those who clung to them—gather for his first weekend of freedom. They have been summoned by Jörg’s devoted sister, Christiane, whose concern for her brother’s safety is matched only by the unrelenting zeal of Marko, a young man intent on having Jörg continue to fight for the cause.