Synopses & Reviews
Bernhard Schlink brings to these seven superbly crafted stories the same sleek concision and moral acuity that made The Reader
an international bestseller. His characters-men with importunate appetites and unfortunate habits of deception-are uneasily suspended between the desire for love and the impulse toward flight.
A young boys fascination with an eerily erotic painting gradually leads him into the labyrinth of his familys secrets. The friendship between a West Berliner and an idealistic young couple from the East founders amid the prosperity and revelations that follow the collapse of communism. An acrobatic philanderer (one wife and two mistresses, all apparently quite happy) begins to crack under the weight of his abundance. By turns brooding and comic, and filled with the suspense that comes from the inexorable unfolding of character, Flights of Love is nothing less than masterful
"He is a master of appearances, but only of appearances. His books appear to have serious themes: in The Reader
, the difficulties of the second generation in reconciling with the Nazi past; in Flights of Love
, the jealousies and infidelities and sublimities of love affairs. Both books owe the entirety of their momentum to the machinations of plot, but the plot is spun charmingly and contrivingly enough that you hardly have a chance to discover that the characters are vacant, virtually without interior lives. Schlink's style is perfectly calibrated to appeal, spare enough to earn the intellectual-sounding description of "minimalist," but more Calvin Klein than Donald Judd." Ruth Franklin, The New Republic
(read the entire The New Republic review
"Seven well-crafted stories filled with existential suspense and as timeless as they are completely of-the-moment...pieces of prose that carry the power of a force of nature." Saarbruecker Zeitung
"Schlink is a brilliant storyteller who steers events to their end with a jurist’s clarity and measured mind. These pieces are as perfect as small plays." Focus (Germany)
From the internationally best-selling author of The Reader, here is a collection of stories that weave themselves around the idea of love—love to seek and love to flee; love as desire, as guilt, as confusion or self-betrayal; love as habit, as affair, and as life-changing rebellion.
As his myriad fans know from The Reader, Bernhard Schlink’s power as a storyteller resides in his cool compassion and in the intelligence that he wields like a laser to penetrate human motives and human behavior. Here his subject is not history but the heart itself, and with the forensic delicacy of a master he lays bare the essence of our feelings.
Already an enormous success in the author’s native Germany, Flights of Love is certain to be celebrated, discussed, read and re-read.
About the Author
Bernhard Schlink is the author of the internationally best selling novel The Reader and of four crime novels, The Gordian Knot, Self Deception, Self-Administered Justice, and Self Slaughter, which are currently being translated into English. He is a professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, in New York.
Table of Contents
Girl with Lizard
A Little Fling
The Other Man
The Woman at the Gas Station
Reading Group Guide
1. “Girl with Lizard”
• What gets in the way of the narrators emotional life? What is the effect of his parents relationship upon his own relationships with women? Is it surprising to learn that his own conception was the result of the rape of his mother by his father? Why is the mother so assiduous in defending the husband she didnt love or respect? What is the nature of the mothers moral failure?
• How does the narrators obsession with the painting link him irrevocably to his parents, and particularly to the crimes of his father? Toward the end of the story the narrator realizes, “just as had been the case at home, the painting was a treasure, a mystery, a window onto beauty and freedom, and at the same time a commanding, controlling power to whom sacrifices would have to be made” [p. 51]. Why does he burn the painting? Why does Schlink include the revelation that the painting the boy and his father loved was a façade, a concealing device?
2. “A Little Fling”
• What is the relationship between the wifes betrayal of her husband—seducing their good friend—and the husbands betrayal of his wife—giving information to the Stasi, the East German secret police? Is one betrayal ethically more acceptable than the other?
• Why does Paula make love to the narrator? Despite the upheaval caused by Svens ill-judged desire to protect his wife and child, is his marriage still quite stable? To what degree has the narrator been, all along, more naive than either of his friends? How does this story expose the contamination of intimate relationships by the culture of state-sponsored spying?
3. “The Other Man”
• What was the nature of the relationship between Lisa and Rolf? Why might Lisa have been attracted to him?
• Why is the daughters angry evaluation of her fathers habitual self-absorption necessary for the readers understanding of his marriage? Is the narrator, newly retired from his work, driven to such lengths in his pursuit of “the other man” mainly by revenge, jealousy, curiosity, or merely idleness?
• Is Rolf merely a con-man, a showoff, a loser? What are the most striking differences between his character and that of the narrator? Why does the narrator decide not to humiliate Rolf at the dinner party? What does the narrator ultimately learn about Rolf, and about himself?
4. “Sugar Peas”
• How does the title, taken from a poem by Heinrich Heine (see p. 162) relate to the story as a whole? How does it relate particularly to the storys ending, in which the three women each take what they want from Thomas in return for taking care of him?
• We are told, as he successfully balances his relationships with three different women, Thomas “loved the high of a juggler who keeps adding more and more rings to his act” [p. 160]. Thomas is successful in love, in his professional life, in his creative life. To what degree is his strong ego the key to his success in all aspects of his life? Is his self-satisfaction well-founded, or is he merely deluding himself? Which elements make this story so effective as a portrait of a narcissistic man?
• Why does Thomas take on the disguise of a monk? What is the symbolic meaning of the monks robe for him? Is there a peculiar sort of justice in Thomass accident, his resulting paralysis, and the quiet triumph of the three women? What is comic about the story, and particularly about the ending?
5. “The Circumcision”
• What is inherent in Uncle Aarons question to Andi, “What did your father do in the war?” [p. 198] How accurate is Andis thought that once Sarahs Jewish family knows hes German, “all else is irrelevant” [p. 201]? Why is their relationship more difficult for him than it is for her?
• Is it strange that Andi thinks he can be circumcised without religious ritual and without becoming a Jew? What does his circumcision mean to him? Why does Sarah react as she does, and why is Andi so unhappy with her reaction? Why does the story end as it does? Does the storys ending imply that the division between Sarah and Andi had been irreparable?
6. “The Son”
• What is the political situation that is the storys framework? Why is it significant that this is the first time the narrator has ever done anything risky in the course of his career as a professor of international law?
• The narrator is ashamed of the passivity with which he has conducted his life. How is this related to his preoccupation with his son and his grief over his failings as a father? How is the political plot related to the domestic one? Is the ending ironic? Does it seem random? Or fated?
7. “The Woman at the Gas Station”
• Early in the story, the narrator notes that he worries that his dream of the woman at the gas station “betrayed something about him” [p. 283]. In what ways might the reader interpret this dream (or fantasy), and what does it betray about the narrator?
• Is the narrator courageous in leaving his wife in the effort to find something that has been missing in his life? What does the storys ending imply? Are we to assume that hell return to the woman at the gas station or not?
8. For discussion of Flights of Love
• In “The Woman at the Gas Station,” the narrator thinks, “Doesnt falling in love presume that you dont know the other person, that he or she still has blank spaces onto which you can project your own desires . . . is there love without projection?” [pp. 289-90] Do other stories also express this deep skepticism about the reality of love? Many of these stories revolve around the elemental yearnings of their main characters—yearnings that usually remain unfulfilled. Does Schlink imply that human desire and fulfillment are incompatible?
• All seven of the stories in this collection are written from the male point of view. What does Schlink reveal about the hidden territories of the male psyche?
• Two of the collections most powerful stories deal with Jewish questions. If you have read The Reader, how does the legacy of the Nazi past interfere in similar ways with the life of the central character in “Girl with Lizard” and “The Circumcision”?
"Intimate, smart, powerful. . . . As memorable as The Reader
. . . . Dazzling." —The Washington Post Book World
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography in this guide are intended to enhance your groups discussion of Bernhard Schlinks new collection of stories, Flights of Love.