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.
Bernhard Schlink is at his finest as The Weekend unfolds. Passions are pitted against pragmatism, ideas against actions, and hopes against heartbreaking realities.
About the Author
Bernhard Schlink is the author of the internationally best-selling novel The Reader, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. He divides his time between Berlin and New York.
Read an Excerpt
She got there just before seven. She’d expected to make more headway and arrive sooner by traveling in the early morning. When she hit more road construction, and yet more, she grew nervous. Would he walk through the gate, look out for her in vain, his ﬁrst reaction one of disappointment, of discouragement? The sun rose in the rearview mirror—she would rather have been driving toward it than away from it, even if it had dazzled her.
She parked where she had always parked and walked the short path to the gate as slowly as she had always walked. Everything to do with her own life she cleared from her mind, to make room for him. He always had a ﬁrm place in her mind; not an hour passed without her wondering what he was doing right now, how he was getting on. But each time she met him, he alone existed for her. Now that his life was no longer in suspended animation, now that it was starting to move once more, he needed her full attention.
The old sandstone building stood in the sun. As so often before, she was strangely moved that a building should serve such an ugly purpose and at the same time be so beautiful: the walls covered with Virginia creeper, ﬁeld and forest green in spring and summer, yellow and red in autumn, the small towers on the corners and the large one in the middle, its windows like those of a church, the heavy gate, forbidding, as if it wished not to shut the inhabitants in but to shut their enemies out. She looked at the clock. The people in there liked to keep you waiting. She had often applied in vain for a two-hour visit, and after the hour granted, was simply not collected but went on sitting with him for another half hour, three quarters of an hour, without really being with him any longer.
But when the bells of the nearby church began to strike seven, the gate opened and he stepped out and blinked into the sun. She crossed the street and embraced him. She embraced him before he could set down his two big bags, and he stood in her embrace without returning it. “At last,” she said, “at last.”
“Let me drive,” he said as they stood by the car, “I’ve dreamed of it so many times.”
“Are you sure? Cars have got faster, the trafﬁc’s heavier.”
He insisted, and kept driving even when the sweat stood out on his brow. She sat tensely next to him and said nothing when he made mistakes turning in the city and overtaking on the autobahn. Until they passed a sign for a service station and she said, “I need some breakfast, I’ve been up for ﬁve hours.”
She had visited him in prison every two weeks. But when he walked along the counter with her, ﬁlled his tray, stood at the till, came back from the toilet and sat down facing her, she felt as if she were seeing him for the ﬁrst time in ages. She saw how old he had become, older than she had noticed or admitted during her visits.
At ﬁrst glance he was still a handsome man, tall, square face, bright green eyes, thick salt- and- pepper hair. But his poor posture emphasized his little paunch, which didn’t match his thin arms and legs, his gait was slow, his face gray, and the wrinkles that crisscrossed his forehead, and were steep and long in his cheeks, indicated not concentration so much as a vague sense of strain. And when he spoke—she was startled by the awkwardness and hesitancy with which he responded to what she said, and the random, jittery hand movements with which he emphasized his words. How could she have failed to notice that on her visits? What else was happening, in him and to him, that she had also failed to notice?
“Are we going to your place?”
“We’re going to the country for the weekend. Margarete and I have bought a house in Brandenburg, rundown, no heating, no electricity, and the only water comes from the pump outside, but it’s got a big, old park. It’s gorgeous now, in the summer.”
“How do you cook?”
She laughed. “Are you interested in that? With great fat red gas canisters. I’ve ordered an extra two for the weekend; I’ve invited our old friends.”
She’d hoped he’d be pleased. But he showed no pleasure. He only asked: “Who?”
She had thought long and hard. Which old friends would do him good, which would only make him embarrassed or reserved? He needs to be among people, she thought. And more than that, he needs help. Who will he get that from, if not his old friends? Finally she decided that the ones who were pleased she had called, the ones who wanted to come, were also the right ones. In some of those who made excuses she sensed honest regret; they would have liked to be there if they’d known about it earlier, if they hadn’t already made other plans. But what was she to do? His release had come as a surprise.
“Henner, Ilse, Ulrich with his second wife and their daughter, Karin with her husband, Andreas, of course. With you, Margarete and me that’s eleven.”
“You know the one—for a long time he just wrote to me. He visited me for the ﬁrst time four years ago and he’s been a regular visitor ever since. Apart from you he’s ...”
“You mean that lunatic who nearly cost you your reprieve?”
“He only did as I asked. I wrote the welcoming speech, I knew who the addressees were, what the occasion was. You have nothing to reproach him for.”
“You couldn’t have known what you were doing. He did know, and he didn’t try to stop you, he just rode on into it. He uses you.” She was as furious now as she had been that morning, reading in the paper that he had written the welcoming address for an obscure left- wing conference on the theme of violence. His actions, the paper said, had revealed his incapacity for insight and remorse—such a person didn’t deserve to be reprieved.
“I’ll give him a call and invite him.” He got up, looked for and found some coins in his trouser pocket and walked to the phone. She got up too, was about to run after him and stop him, then sat back down again. When she saw he didn’t know where to take the conversation, she got back up, walked over to him, took the receiver and described the route to her house. He put his arm around her, and it felt so good that she was reconciled.
When they drove on, she was at the wheel. After a while he asked, “Why didn’t you invite my son?”
“I called him and he just put the phone down. Then I wrote him a letter.” She shrugged. “I knew you’d want him to be there. I also knew he wouldn’t come. He decided against you a long time ago.”
“That wasn’t him. That was them.”
“What difference does it make? He’s become the person they brought up.”
Reading Group Guide
1. The book opens with Christiane picking Jörg up from the prison entrance. His sister has visited him every two weeks for the last twenty-four years, yet their first meeting is tense and restrained. Do you think Jörg is concerned about the way people are going to see him, or is it simply dealing with the feeling of freedom?
2. Although there are others present when Henner arrives at the estate, he is the first of Jörg’s friends to be introduced. Do you think Henner’s profession as a journalist makes him more objective when looking at Jörg’s life?
3. During the first meal at which everyone is gathered, Ulrich is particularly harsh toward Jörg. While everyone else is making polite conversation, Ulrich wants to know, “What was the worst thing about jail?” When people object to Ulrich’s questions, he defends himself by saying, “Why shouldn’t I ask him about his life? He chose it—just as you chose yours and I chose mine.” Do you think Ulrich is correct? Do we have so much choice in life?
4. Ilse’s writings about Jan are a parallel plot to the main story. She seems to be trying to grant herself closure by giving Jan’s life meaning. How do you feel about her suggesting Jan had something to do with 9/11, and still giving him an emancipating end?
5. Ulrich’s daughter, Dorle, makes a big scene near the beginning of the book, but she was not one of Jörg’s friends, and seems to completely change after her initial commotion. How does the character of Dorle fit with the rest of the characters, and why do you think the author included her?
6. Jörg’s son, Ferdinand, arrives late to the gathering. He and his father haven’t been in contact, and Christiane says, “He’s become the person they brought up.” Yet Ferdinand does come for the weekend, despite his feelings about his father’s past. Do you think Jörg and Ferdinand will have a relationship afterwards?
7. Christiane has had a relationship with Henner and Margarete, but her real love is for her brother. Do you think Henner and Margarete are attracted to each other in spite of Christiane, or because of her? Has so much time passed for all of them that the past relationships don’t matter anymore?
8. Marko Hahn believes that Jörg can still live as a symbol to the revolutionary cause. Christiane believes Jörg can change his life and become something separate from his past. Andreas just wants to keep his friend out of public dealings. Do you think any of these things are possible?
9. Karin, as the vicar, tries to keep peace among the parties, but even she is torn by memories of what the friends did in their youth in the name of revolution, of passion and belief in truth. Is it moral responsibility that has changed their beliefs, or, as Marko claims, complacency in life?
10. Jörg claims that he doesn’t remember the murders he committed, and several of the others seem to have forgotten the details of what happened twenty-five years before. Do you think it is possible to thoroughly block out the details of such terrible events? Do you think, from the victim’s standpoint, it is acceptable to let them be forgotten?
11. It is revealed that Christiane was the one who led police to Jörg, because she wanted to protect him. Marko seems more angry about this betrayal than Jörg himself. What do you think about Christiane’s act?
12. Jörg claims he has paid enough for the murders, but his son disagrees. “You haven’t paid for what you did—you’ve forgiven yourself for it. Presumably even before you did it. But only the others can forgive you. And they don’t.” Jörg killed in the name of the revolution, but his son sees the individuals that were affected. Is killing in the name of truth ever acceptable?
13. What do you think of Jörg’s revelation at the end? Do you feel sorry for him? Do you think he has paid for what he has done?
14. Looking back at your own life, was there a cause that you felt passionately about that you barely remember now? Why did you let that cause go? How do you feel about it now?
15. How do you think the characters will be changed by the weekend? Who do you think will be most affected?
This was an outstanding read. The tale takes several interesting turns that were like the subject matter itself, a bit clandestine. The vivid description of the setting made feel as though I were sitting at a Pond I am familiar with in Sulzbach-Rosenberg. A pond from my youth. The story takes one from the idealism of youth, to the comprimises of middle of age and finally the pragmatism of wisdom. This book made me feel the angst and conflict of the journey. I cannot wait to read more by this author.
I think this book was a discussion about how life doesn't turn out the way you dream about when you are young. Jorg, the recently released (after 20+ years) from jail terrorist has not revised his revolutionary views and they are held in contrast to contemporary thinking of his former comrades. The surprise arrival further challenges them against the times and with the new generations response. The point for me was not the right/wrong of the actions but the datedness of the thinking, as perhaps is all our un-evolved hopes for our future - and the reasons we find we do not achieve our youthful goals.Schlink gives time for most of the older characters to contrast their contemporary lives against their younger beliefs - again, at times using younger characters as a reference point.I really enjoyed this book, it's slim but packed and I imagine will be re-read.
How does a terrorist deal with being released from prison back into the very society that he tried to destroy? How do his friends and relatives respond to him as a convicted murderer? This is the scenario that Bernhard Schlink posits in his new novel, The Weekend. Jorg has spent the last two decades in prison, convicted for acts of terror that cost four people their lives. He has petitioned the state for early release and has been pardoned. His sister Christiane meets him upon his release and takes him to the rural retreat that she shares with her companion Margarete. Invited to share Jorg's first weekend of freedom are friends who had shared Jorg's zeal for revolution back in the day, but whose passion never translated into action and who have since made lives for themselves within the bougeois, capitalist society that as young people they had deplored. Schlink has created a brittle drama in which many questions remain unanswered and little is resolved. Questions and recriminations fly back and forth, but it turns out that the motives behind people's actions are often selfishly human and, thus, deeply flawed. The Weekend is a potent and eloquent exploration of guilt and moral responsibility. Jorg's acceptance of a small role for himself within society is in many ways a triumph. But we can only wonder if he is trying to prove to people that he is worthy of the faith they have placed in him, or if he is hiding from his past crimes.
I am unsure what to think. The themes of responsibility and revolutionary ethics should have been of natural interest to me, but somehow I found the treatment bland and superficial. I expected to be troubled or surprised... and never was. Perhaps what Schlink wanted to say is that former terrorists and activists are as boring and bored as regular people? They become less than they had hoped to become, unless maybe they die in the act.Karin's admonition to Marko makes a key point: "...moreI am unsure what to think. The themes of responsibility and revolutionary ethics should have been of natural interest to me, but somehow I found the treatment bland and superficial. I expected to be troubled or surprised... and never was. Perhaps what Schlink wanted to say is that former terrorists and activists are as boring and bored as regular people? They become less than they had hoped to become, unless maybe they die in the act.Karin's admonition to Marko makes a key point: "You think Jörg is nothing if he isn't what he wanted to become? You think everyone who doesn't fulfill his hopes is nothing? Few people, in that case, are anything. I don't know anyone whose life has turned out as he dreamed it would." (p. 144) Perhaps this summarizes the book well.
I think Bernhard can explore more of the human condition in fewer pages then any writer. I really enjoyed this book, because it did explore so much. mainly coming to grips with seeing that our lives did't turn out the way we dreamed
The Weekend By Bernhard Schlink Jorg, a convicted terrorist is pardoned and released from prison after being away for 24 years. His sister Christianne arranges a weekend in her country estate with old friends to welcome and ease Jorg back to society and everyday life. The small group varies with college and childhood friends, most revealing little or no sympathy and attending simply to assist Christianne. They feel Jorg has no remorse for his actions and despise his continuous revolutionary theories. There are a few small relationships of interest and a strong, nearly incestuous one between Jorg and Christianne. They are an interesting cast, the writing is impeccable but the reader only catches a small glimpse into their lives.