Bernhard Schlink

    is a German writer, and professor of public law and the philosophy of law at Berlin’s Humboldt University. He was a judge of the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster. In his writing he raises theoretical issues of justice, most frequently on the example of coming to terms with the guilt of the past. Apart from the international bestseller, Der Vorleser (1995, The Reader), adapted by Stephen Daldry into an Oscar-winning film, his many acclaimed works include the novels Liebesfluchten (2000, Flights of Love), Die Heimkehr (2006, Homecoming) and Das Wochenende (2008, The Weekend). “In the time between handing in a manuscript and the book’s publication, one question is constantly on my mind: is this book really mine? The hope that the book will be warmly received and that it will find its way to readers is always very fragile. That is why the question of whether the book is really ‘mine’ matters so much to me. […] If you want to know if I take the readers’ wishes and desires into account, the answer is no. I know that some writers are capable of doing that, of intuiting the public’s expectations and hopes; that is a real gift. But it’s not one that I possess. Except, perhaps, in one sense – my writing is straightforward. As a young boy, I may have been nine or ten, I had just started secondary school, I went for a walk with my mother and she asked me: ‘What did you learn at school today?’ And my response to her, an educated woman, was: ‘It’s complicated, I can’t explain it to you.’ And my mum, instead of saying: ‘What an arrogant brat you are!’ said: ‘In a democracy we have to be able to explain everything.’ Isn’t it a brilliant answer? It has become very important for me, both in my capacity as a professor and writer. I have always tried to make my lectures and seminars comprehensible to everyone and to write in such a way that everyone could read it. […] My students also have to take a position on German history whenever they go abroad, take trips to Holland, Poland or Israel. They can’t pretend they have nothing to do with the past. However, they don’t have to feel guilt or shame – why should they? Whenever they encounter someone who still carries the traumatic burden of the past they owe these people tact – that is also quite something but it’s not the same thing as guilt or shame. They don’t owe them memory. But their lives are enriched if they perceive themselves as children of German history even if it only entails the horrible period of the Third Reich. We cannot pick and choose only the positive from the past and suppress the negative.”