Bernhard Schlink: Die gordische Schleife

I’ve just finished reading Bernhard Schlink’s Die gordische Schleife (literally ‘the Gordian bow’, referring to the idea that every Gordian knot can be untied), a thriller that appeared in 1988. It reads well, especially at the beginning, but its plot and the relationships between its characters are not very credible, and at the end it suddenly gets tied up in unexpected philosophizing. Schlink’s strongest suit seems to be observation of the world through the eyes of a reflective young man – thoughtful observation of detail is the strongest element of Der Vorleser too.

Before I bought it, Schlink had written two better-thought-of crime novels whose main character, Selb, was a 68-year-old private detective with a Nazi past. A further one, Selbs Mord (literally, Selb’s murder: SelbsTmord means suicide) appeared in 2001. But Schlink is now internationally famous as the author of Der Vorleser (The Reader) (not just because it was an Oprah selection in the USA). But The Gordian Knot (as it will be called when it appears in English in 2004) has a main character who is a German ex-lawyer turned translator, living in France.Schlink studied law and is a university lecturer in law in Berlin (and the USA too, I gather), and is a judge at a constitutional court. His first Selb novel was written together with Walter Popp, who also studied law and became a translator in France. Die gordische Schleife no longer had Popp as co-author, but its main character is a translator who has escaped Germany for the south of France. He translates documents relating to helicopters (there seems to be a lot of aeronautical translation in France) and becomes involved in international industrial espionage. If not Walter Popp’s person, then at least his situation seems to have been borrowed by Schlink for Die gordische Schleife.

Here’s a 1997 interview with Schlink in English.
And here is a biography with a brief interview in German. And a longer Die Welt interview in German, comparing Oprah and Das Literarische Quartett.

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