You should read this novel if you appreciate the power of history ... The narration can be breakneck: decades pass in single sentences, while other paragraphs describe mere moments. This is the effect of memory; lives are condensed into a series of experiences and relationships.
Though there are fragments of hope in this story, Schlink cloaks it in unmistakable melancholy ... With fine authorial care, Schlink leads us from the child Olga standing at a window in her hometown near Breslau...to her hospital deathbed in Heidelberg ... Much of this relationship, which does not progress to marriage, is relayed through letters between the two, skilfully deployed by Schlink to show the naivety and also the callousness of both parties ... Schlink frames the novel as a search for meaning, which dances in Olga between a multitude of timeframes and territories ... At the novel’s midpoint, when its energy appears to be waning, Schlink reveals the extent of his narrative control.
Bernhard Schlink’s latest novel about an ill-fated couple is quieter, more reflective than his international bestseller The Reader ... 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.
A nuanced portrait ... While the two big reveals in the final section are strongly telegraphed, the more quotidien mysteries of Olga’s life will keep readers engaged. Readers who love rich character studies will want to pick this up.
In a story that sweeps across a century, a woman who stays home is more engaging that her lover who explores the world ... The novel covers more than a century, and its swathes of historical exposition take the reader away from Olga; it’s strongest when it pauses to explore the intimate texture of her life, but those pauses are too brief. She’s an intriguing character, but Herbert isn’t, making her devotion to him a puzzle. A couple of big reveals about Olga are telegraphed so early and so broadly that they lack punch when they come. A historical novel about a mismatched couple spends too little time with its most interesting character.