Cover Image: Olga


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Member Reviews

This is a well written book. It has some fine lines, a few well-conceived set pieces, a fair share of perceptive and insightful observations, and lean dialogue. That said, try as I might I found neither the characters nor the overall narrative engaging enough to arouse or hold my curiosity and attention. As a consequence, it doesn't seem fair to write much more of a review, apart from encouraging interested readers to give the book a try.
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Olga was a fascinating piece of literature. It forces readers to consider what repercussions one person's life can have on so many other lives and the ripple effect from there for generations. Olga is one woman who lives a humble, simple life, where she tries to do her best for those around her, despite a difficult upbringing and relationship with her partner. But what seems like a simple beginning, middle, and ending to a simple woman's life, is actually so much more and provides so much more meaning to those who came into contact with her.
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"Olga" was a masterpiece of emotion. It perfectly encompassed everything I loved about Bernhard Schlink's writing when I read his previous novel "The Reader" several years ago. I was hesitant about the format of the story as I sometimes struggle with novels that jump time periods and points of view, but Schlink mastered each phase of the novel with ease and intrigue. It was beautifully emotional and compelling, and I found myself rooting for Olga and hoping that she finally got the love she had been yearning for her entire life.

It was the type of book that stays with you long after you've read the last page—and those reading experiences are always, always my favorites.
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This is a very quick read; it could easily be done in a day. The story spans decades as it tells of Olga's entire life. Olga is a woman who has experienced many things including two world wars. The last third of the book is written a bit oddly, but it does help to finish off the story in a unique way that fits precisely how Olga's story was told.
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I loved this books, and it will definitely stay with me. Olga explores the life, love, and loss of a woman through various perspectives and over many years. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful, and I highly recommend this book. It is a book that is emotionally impactful.
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This sad tale of Olga’s life from birth to death sweeps across a century. Olga is an orphan raised by her Grandmother. She falls in love with Herbert whose parents and sister are against the relationship. The relationship is carried out in secret. Herbert ends up missing and presumed dead. This is her only lover, she pines for him for the remainder of her life and never takes another lover.
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This was a gentle book that reminded me of reading with my grandmother. While Olga is not a start-she lives her life grandly. Very good
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I love Bernhard Schlink and would read anything by him. I enjoyed reading this novel, but compared with Schlink's past work it struck me as superficial in style, and inconsequential in story.
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This is the second book by Bernhard Schlink I've read, and I absolutely loved both of them. Olga Nowak Rinke is a knowing child from the getgo: a natural reader, an observer, a good student, with pride in her own self. Her parents died of typhus when she was little, and she was raised by her paternal grandmother at arms length. Her German friends Herbert and Viktoria Schröder were of the manor borne, but despite their different castes they bonded until Viktoria went away and decided to be ashamed of their friendship. Instead of harboring resentment Olga concentrated on her studies, and on her burgeoning romantic relationship with Herbert. Olga and Herbert share everything, their views, their love, their passions, and even when they don't align ethically or morally, still Olga supports Herbert's as he runs off to the German South West Africa, and then Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Siberia, and to the Northeast Passage. They corresponded, and reunited, then corresponded more, until she stopped hearing back from him altogether. And Olga retired from her teaching job as the Third Reich gained power and she lost her hearing and learned to lipread. 

This story of Olga reads like a mystery. What is her relationship with her friend Sanne's son Eik? And then with sickly Ferdinand, the youngest son of the family she sews for? After her death, boring Ferdinand (no longer young) picks up clues and solves the mystery, in a heart-warming, deeply satisfying fashion. 

"The melody of Olga's life was her love for Herbert and her resistance to him, as fulfillment and as disappointment." This book of historical fiction is so romantic - despite not being of that genre. 

I have to mention I never understood why she didn't get an inheritance from her grandmother, it didn't seem like there were other relatives vying for her attention, and had she had a home and land of her own it seems her future would have been different.
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Like a good portion of planet Earth, I loved Schlink’s The Reader. The simplicity of the writing style coupled with the gravity of the plot was hauntingly disarming, and the story and its characters lived in my head rent-free for months.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be true after reading Olga. While I really loved our introduction to Olga and her way of looking at the world, the straightforward narrative style then faded into something flatter. I felt outside of the story much of the time, even in the more revealing and personal third part of the book.

I did really enjoy the book’s structure and the shifting narrative styles. I also thought it very clever of Schlink to structure it the way he did, leaving the most intimate look at Olga’s life until last.

While I personally didn’t connect to this story, I’d still recommend it for lovers of The Reader.
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“𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐝𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐞 𝐧𝐨𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐫𝐮𝐞. 𝐍𝐨𝐫 𝐝𝐨 𝐝𝐞𝐞𝐝𝐬.”

Olga is the child of a docker and laundress, who entrust their daughter to a neighbor. It is this woman who floods her world with words, teaches her to think. A child growing up in poverty, when life takes an unfortunate turn, she is orphaned. Soon, her stern, emotionally distant paternal-grandmother swoops in and takes her to Pomerania and away from the kindly neighbor. The grandmother had never approved of Olga’s mother, even longing to change the child’s Slavic name to something more German. Olga refuses and hence her stubborn nature is born.

Every freedom is lost once the big city is left behind, no longer can she read nor study, now it is work in the fields and gardens. There are no more lively conversations like she had with the neighbor and she is very lonely. Soon, she finds a child much like herself named Herbert, the son of the richest man in the village. Along with Herbert, comes his younger sister Viktoria and both love Olga’s curiosity about for their world of ease. Olga, whose place is amongst the coarse, less educated children will always be set apart from her friends. As she becomes a young woman she wants nothing more than to attend the state teacher-training college for women. She doesn’t have the means, but won’t be deterred. Herbert’s passion is for ‘hunting, riding rowing, running… the great open expanse of sky and land’, the last thing he wants is to be tied to the family estate. When Viktoria leaves for finishing school, Herbert and Olga find themselves forming a more intimate bond, one away from the prying eyes of his parents, her grandmother and the ‘knowing glances’ of the villagers.

Herbert will join the Guards regiment and Olga will earn her independent life as a teacher. When Herbert is sent to German South West Africa, Viktoria (along with her parents and others) scheme to separate the lovers by having Olga transferred to East Prussia. It is a poor, wretched place but at least she is free of his wicked sister and her village. She keeps up with the colonial forces war against the Herero, the conflicting attitudes and cruelties all the while writing heartfelt letters to her beloved Herbert, waiting for his replies, always longing for the brief moments they share. Through Herbert the reader is privy to his adventurous spirit and the majesty of the desert. His vision is one of German’s conquering the land, making it more ‘civilized’. When they are together again, after his return, she wants to forget the atrocities he wrote about and understand the people he encountered, their humanity. Herbert has a superior attitude, not matched the Olga’s feelings, curiosity.

He wants to marry Olga, his parents will not approve it. More than anything he longs for freedom, knowing greatness awaits him. He is restless and their time together is dwindling, he leaves for Argentina not making any promises to Olga nor his own family. Their love continues from afar, as more journeys follow in between he spends a few days in Tilsit with Olga, where she feels more like the lover of a married man. His parents never budge in the refusal to accept Olga and Herbert is never still long enough to fight for her. Olga would have loved nothing more than to have Herbert by her side watching Eik , her neighbor’s son, grow up. It is her one joy! Herbert believes Germany’s future is in the Arctic, but she doesn’t understand what he could possibly be searching for there, and just like everything else, he can’t explain himself either. That hunger for never ending expanse.

Her life is always lived on a sort of back burner. Germany declares war on Russia, and as always life must submit. The missives from Herbert stop when he vanishes in the arctic and yet her love is steadfast. Through Eik, filling him with tales of Herbert, the adventurer she keeps him alive in her heart. Despite everything she teaches the child through the years, Eik’s choices, just like Herbert’s, will stun her. At the age of 53, no longer suited to the new age, Olga is dismissed in her teaching post, deaf now after illness. War is always on her heels, and she flees, finding working as a seamstress in southwest Germany. Until she works for one family in particular.

Part Two is about Ferdinand, he is the son of the family she is now working for. It is the 1950’s, and she regales him with her past, tales of she and Herbert’s love. But now, she no longer sees Herbert’s restlessness, nor Eik’s ‘dreams about Lebensraum’ as grand. Ferdinand is taught a different history about the German Empire through Olga. He also gets a lesson in nothingness. But there are holes in her story, people that ‘drop off’ things he never thinks to ask.

So much is stolen from her and yet she persists and ‘withstands’. Olga’s is a story about resilience, in the face of a changing world, poverty and restless people. Until the very end of her life, she is a student of the world, always keeping up with politics, culture, social realities. Never one to fall into line with ‘grand ideas’ over solving problems, weary of moralizers who after many decades on earth all start to sound the same. With all the people she has lost, they are still present with her, but she doesn’t really get to speak her true feelings until the end.

Appointed as her legal heir, Ferdinand inherits a small amount of money and doesn’t even touch it. He goes on with his life but the past edges its way back in, as it often will for many. It is when he tracks down a bookseller whose trove of Tromsø Poste restante, that could contain correspondence between Olga and Herbert, that her story fully unfolds. A woman, too, reaches out longing to meet with him. Just who was the Olga he came to love? It was engaging and he doesn’t truly get to know her until long after her strange, loud death! I felt far more connected with her through the writing to Herbert. At last, she speaks from her heart- there you are, there is your true fire, old girl!

It’s a quiet, slow burn but I enjoyed it. It is rich with history about Germany, too.

Published September 21, 2021

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Olga is a beautifully written character-study of a young orphaned girl raised by her emotionally cold grandmother. Olga spends much of her life looking to fit in and have others value her.

She falls in love with Herbert, an aristocratic schoolmate, because he is different as she is. He loves her in return, but they are apart more than they are together: he filling his life with the adventures he craves; she working as a teacher, waiting for him to return to her, become man enough to stand up to his disapproving family, and to treat her as a priority in his life.

The novel is told across decades and through three POVs: Olga's, that of a man she befriended when he was a child, and Olga's letters to Herbert. Schlink does an admirable job of giving Olga depth and complexity and making her life, her choices, and the consequences of those choices, interesting.

I found this an intriguing read - 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars.

My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Via for allowing me to read an ARC of this book, scheduled to be published on 9/21/21. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are freely given.
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A quiet, even reticent, novel that pulls the reader in nonetheless. I've not known about some of the German history the novel refers to and Olga opened it up to me. The narrator/protagonist' reconstruction of Olga's life touched on the unexpected ways in which individual lives intersect with larger forces of history, war, and the aftermath.
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A big thank-you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for giving me a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

2.5/5 - Mostly just okay, with parts I liked better than others. 

I adored "The Reader." If I had to make a list of my top 10 books, it would probably be in that list. And despite the fact that I was disappointed with "Olga," I still love the clarity and vulnerable candor of Schlink's writing. But it was difficult not to compare the two books and this one did not have the whirlwind of emotions that I had come to expect, nor did it raise similar moral questions. 

The thing that irritated me most was that "Olga" was barely about Olga... It is about Herbert, Eik, Ferdinand, the tragic downfall of a Germany stretched beyond its capacity for greatness, all of the Icaruses in Olga's life that just had to soar far too close to the sun of an endless expanse... If anything, she was their Daedalus, crafting wings for these men that they were too foolish to properly use. However, we don't truly meet her until Part III and even then her voice is consumed by her reflections on Herbert and Eik. I found myself wanting to know this woman and being deeply frustrated that the fascinating titular character of this novel had such a small voice in it. 

I had also been hoping for a big twist that made me ask myself difficult moral questions, the way "The Reader" had done. But the twist felt quite predictable and the only questions it raised where as to whether a nation aiming at greatness beyond its means would always be doomed to fail, the way that individuals who overindulge in greatness must fail. And I suppose that is an interesting discussion, but not as fascinating as the discussion that took place after "The Reader." 

Despite my criticism of the book, I did enjoy significant parts of it. I resonated with Olga's love for cemeteries as the great equalizers and the commentary on history, especially how it is re-written and transformed. The book is still well written, with several moments that felt very vivid and beautiful. Schlink has a gift for matter-of-fact vulnerability that I deeply appreciate. As such, I am still glad I have read the book.
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I was excited to receive an ARC ebook of Olga, by Bernhard Schlink.  As I turned the first page, I was drawn into the story and off for what looked like was going to be my favorite book of the year.  I couldn't put it down.  But, I am not sure what happened. Somewhere in the middle, it became just a good book, nothing special. I continued to read in hopes that this was just a lull, but it never picked back up for me. It was interesting and I gained insight into some things I hadn't given thought to before.  I am always hopeful that Schlink will create another work like his novel, The Reader, so I will continue reading. This one was the closest yet.
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When I saw that Berhard Schlink had a new release coming out, I was so excited; I read The Reader back in high school and loved it.

Olga lived up to my high expectations.

As someone who is not well-acquainted with German history, I was so intrigued by the intimate view this novel provided. Additionally, Olga brought up some great questions: are some causes too grand? Should we focus on our own community and/or nation before others?

I only have a couple criticisms. Olga is divided into three parts and the narrative shift between each gave me whiplash. Also, the novel's timeline was unclear to me—like I said, I'm not familiar with German history and the book didn't provide many dates/years (at least in the first two parts).
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I started off loving this but lost steam about halfway through. This sort of period-drama-love-story is just my jam so I of course finished it. Made me miss Schroder!
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I really couldn't connect to the characters and the story for this book, it was actually very hard for me to finish. No fault to the author but just not for me.
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I absolutely adored Olga by Bernhard Schlink. Her story spans from teenage years to her 90s and it’s fascinating to follow her love to Herbert and her life. This story was so well told, I couldn’t put it down and I am still thinking about Olga.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the HarperVia for sending an ARC.  Olga was a thought provoking read that kept my attention throughout.  Schlink’s excellent writing is new to me and Olga has prompted my investigating his earlier works.  

The story was well plotted (including a few twists) and depicted a world that was artfully described.  Olga and her love Herbert seem ill fated in large part due to Herbert’s wanderlust.  Other aspects of Olga’s life come into focus, teaching “fostering” a young child and singing replace her never ending longing for a full relationship with her absent love.  Herbert’s absence became a bit tiresome but the story behind his adventures kept my attention to last page.  

I will read more of Schlink’s writing before I comment on where this novel fits into his worldview but as a stand-alone read, Olga is worth the time.
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