Bernhard Schlink

Portrait Bernhard Schlink
© Hartwig Klappert

Bernhard Schlink was born in 1944 in Großdornberg (Bielefeld) and grew up in Heidelberg. He has a doctorate in law and is a professor of public law and the philosophy of law. He taught in Bonn, Frankfurt am Main, and at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin from 1992 to 2009. From 1987 until 2006 he was also a judge at the constitutional court of North Rhine-Westphalia. During the post-reunification period, he was an advisor to the draft constitution of the Central Round Table of the GDR.

In 1987, together with Walter Popp, he published his first novel »Selbs Justiz« (Eng. »Self’s Punishment«, 2004), about the aging private detective Gerhard Selb, who is confronted with his own past as a state attorney during the Nazi era. After »Die gordische Schleife« (1988; Eng. »The Gordian Knot«, 2010), which won the 1989 Friedrich Glauser Prize, Schlink expanded his crime series about Self the private detective into a trilogy with »Selbs Betrug« (1992; Eng. »Self’s Deception«, 2007) and »Selbs Mord« (2001; Eng. »Self’s Murder«, 2010). In 1995, Schlink’s most well-known and internationally recognized novel to date was published: »Der Vorleser« (Eng. »The Reader«, 1997), which has been translated into over fifty languages and was made into a film by Stephen Daldry in 2008. In the three-part novel, the jurist Michael Berg narrates flashbacks to the end of the 1950s and his erotic relationship as a 15-year-old student with Hanna Schmitz, who is 21 years his senior. As a student, he watches her be sentenced to life in prison in an Auschwitz court trial and realizes that Hanna is illiterate. Their relationship is rekindled during the prison term, Berg sends cassettes to her in prison which help Hanna learn how to read and write. After he has agreed to help her rejoin society, Hanna hangs herself in her cell on the eve of her release. In addition to the precise style and directness of the narration, critics have praised Schlink’s treatment of the problematics of guilt regarding Holocaust crimes and the handling of the perpetrators in 1960s West Germany, »just when it would seem that everything has been said about Germany and the war« (»The New York Times«). Further important works by Bernhard Schlink include the story collections »Liebesfluchten« (2000; Eng. »Flights of Love«, 2002) and »Sommerlügen« (2010; Eng. »Summer Lies«, 2012) as well as the novels »Die Heimkehr« (2006; Eng. »Homecoming«, 2009) and »Das Wochenende« (2008; Eng. »The Weekend«, 2010). »Olga« (2018) tells the story of the lovers Herbert, a squire’s son who participates in the genocides of Herero and Nama during the German Empire’s delusions of grandeur, and Olga, who despite her modest upbringing becomes a teacher and seems to be the »utopian opposite« of the hundreds of years of German history covered by the novel.

Bernhard Schlink has earned numerous accolades, including the WELT-Literaturpreis (1999) and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Officer’s Cross (2003). He lives in Berlin and New York.