cover image FLIGHTS OF LOVE: Stories


Bernhard Schlink, , trans. from the German by John E. Woods. . Pantheon, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42090-0

Schlink's The Reader was a surprise bestseller on these shores, discovered by Oprah and established by word of mouth. The writer's mastery of form, concise yet thorough probing of character, and concern with the moral implications of human behavior are again in evidence in these seven gripping stories. German men are protagonists in each of them, with some traits in common: a need for order, efficiency, respectability and righteousness, and a difficulty in expressing emotion. While the settings are mainly in Germany, two stories take place in North America and one in an unnamed South American country. Though love is the common emotion in each, not a trace of sentimentality mars the tensile energy of the narratives. Instead, Schlink examines the wounds inflicted by history and bitterness, jealousy and regret, neglect and repressed emotions. The penalties of love, and the lack of it, are paid by spouses, lovers, children. "A Little Fling," perhaps the most haunting story in the collection, deals with the legacy of betrayal fostered by the Berlin Wall. The shadow of the Holocaust prevents a man from experiencing love in "Girl with Lizard" and bewilders another young man in "The Circumcision," whose title threatens to remove suspense, but Schlink adds a quietly devastating twist at the end. Despite Schlink's matter-of-fact depiction of events, "The Other Man" and "Sugar Peas" can test credibility, but both stories are anchored in such strikingly portrayed characters that the reader's trust remains strong. The clarity of Schlink's vision and the calm eloquence with which it's expressed make these tales classics of their genre. First serial to the New Yorker. (Oct. 4)