Bernhard Schlink – Homecoming


This is another one of my reviews that have been pending for over a month. While I’m reading the super-chunky Midnight’s Children, I thought it’s a good time to get up-to-date with some of the reviews which really should have been written earlier.

Homecoming was my attempt to get familiar with Schlink’s writing, before I read The ReaderSchlink’s much acclaimed international bestseller, and unfortunately, I was fairly disappointed, so much so that, I’ve put off reading The Reader ’til next year. 

Another book that originates in the post-war Germany, this one traces the life of Peter Debauer as he struggles to find his ‘home’. Born and brought up in Germany, by his mother, Peter has never known his dead father, although he spent his vacations with his father’s parents in Switzerland, while growing up. 

His grandparents were editors of a series called Novels for Your Reading Pleasure and Entertainment. However, they were insistent that young Peter never read these manuscripts, and instead, they would provide him with books more suitable for children his age. However, Peter disobeyed them only the once, and coincidentally, stumbled upon a story that would change his life… 

The story revolved around a soldier who escapes from Russian imprisonment, and starts his journey home, overcoming obstacles on the way. Yet, when he reaches home, he finds his wife married, with a child. What transpires next is unknown, as the last few pages of this story are missing. 

Years later, Peter finds the story again, and is filled with an urge to determine what happened next in the story. So starts his quest to look for the novel, and its author. However, he is unable to find a published copy of the manuscript, but, he is able to identify the building in Germany which used to be the soldier’s home, and he rings on the apartment. Typically, a woman opens the door, and Peter ends up falling in love with her. And in due course of time, she tells him that she is already married. 

When they meet again, a few years on, Peter proposes to her, and they decide to tie the knot. However, the legal documentation cannot be completed, as the authorities are unable to find anyone with Peter’s name born at the time/place of his birth. In theory, he doesn’t exist. When he goes back, to ask his mother the details of his birth and early life, he finds out that she hasn’t been totally honest with him, about his father, or his early life. In fact, his father might be alive. Another coincidence: the author of the manuscript might just be the man who fathered him! 

And so he sets off to New York, to find out who he really is, where he’s come from, and the mystery surrounding his father. 

The book is well-written. However, it’s a hackneyed unbelievable plot, with too many coincidences; most of which seem far-fetched. Also, Schlink’s tried way too hard to allude to the Odyssey, drawing parallels between the protagonist’s life and the classic masterpiece. In fact, it looks like he’s tweaked and tucked his plot to match the Odyssey’s. I also think this might be one of those books, which suffers from losing a lot of its brilliance due to translation. The words just don’t flow easily, and at the end of the day, it seems like a rigid forced novel, instead of an easy free-flowing one. 

Overall rating: 4/10

4 Responses to “Bernhard Schlink – Homecoming”

  1. 1 Megan

    It definitely sounds like a compelling story, but I can really see how it could get weighed down or “lost in translation.” Great review, though — I’ve been interested in Schlink as The Reader has been getting so much buzz! But I’ll probably put it off for now.

    • 2 uncertainprinciples

      Thanks :)

      I’ve put off The Reader for now as well. However, been reading some other reviews, and The Reader is supposed to be ten-fold better than Homecoming, so it’s almost tempting to pick it up, just to see what the fuss is about.

  2. 3 Trin

    I read Schlink’s The Reader at the beginning of the year and the great romance of the beginning is lost and it gets bogged down at the end, in my opinion.

    • 4 uncertainprinciples

      I had a similar thought about Homecoming. It starts off great, but then just goes downhill?

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