Skip to main content


October 13, 2010

Bernhard Schlink: THE WEEKEND

Posted by Dana

Today's guest blogger is Bernhard Schlink, best known for his book THE READER.  He has a new book out that may prove to be just as impactful as THE READER and promises to stir up some excellent conversation for your book club.  It's called THE WEEKEND and deals with terrorism from a different point of view - that of the terrorist and his friends and family as they gather upon his release from prison.  In today's post Bernhard gives us some insight into where the idea for the story came from and what issues he aimed to tackle.
The-Weekend-9780307378156.jpgThe terrorism of the RAF, the Red Army Faction, was never a threat for Germany. The assaults in the 1970s and 80s were painful for the victims and their relatives, compromising the state that failed to protect its citizens. But what captured the imagination of German society was less fear than the question: Why did our children, fellow students, and friends become murderers? We thought we knew them, but we were wrong - who are they?
Andreas Baader was an adventurer, but Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin came from religious and morally committed families, as many others who took over after them. They wanted to speak out while their parents had kept quiet under the Nazis, to resist while their parents had acquiesced. They wanted to stand up against the war in Vietnam and against the support that it got in Germany and from Germany. They set a department store on fire to show that the flames of Napalm would eventually reach Germany. Then Baader's jailbreak led to the first shooting and killing and drove them underground. They robbed banks, assassinated industrialists and politicians - and bystanders. Every action cost them sympathizers, drove them more into isolation. Their late pamphlets show that they had lost all touch with reality.
The idea to write about German terrorism came to me in the 1970s. One night I visited my parents and my mother told me: Bernhard, if you should become a terrorist and, decide to flee, please, knock at our door, I would say, you can stay for the night, but have to leave tomorrow morning. I wanted to write about this night's discussion between son and parents, maybe also his sister and an old friend - terrorism in a chamber play. Over the years the set up changed, but the idea of a chamber play remained and finally found the set up of The Weekend.
Now these were the questions to be negotiated: How do your find your way back into society after years as a terrorist and decades as an inmate? Can you give these years meaning? Can you justify some of what you did? Do you feel remorse? How do you respond to the expectations of others? What are their expectations?
Researching my book I think I found a common denominator of terrorism. The RAF fought for a world without injustice, Communists for one without class struggle, Nazis for one without racial commingling, Islamists for one without nonbelievers. They all fought or fight for their vision of a pure world. But the world is a messy place, and to accept it without giving up on making it a better place is a crucial element of our humaneness.

-- Bernhard Schlink, Author