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Bernhard Schlink books in order

Bernhard Schlink is a German lawyer, academic and award-winning, international bestselling author of mystery, politics, philosophy and literary fiction books.

Born in Bielefeld, Germany, he studied law at the University of Heidelberg and the Free University of Berlin.

Schlink worked as a judge at the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1988. He teaches public law and legal philosophy at Humboldt University of Berlin and at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York City.

His career in fiction writing began in 1987 when he published the detective novel Self's Punishment, the first book in the Gerhard Self series, whereas The Reader (1995) was adapted into a 2008 film starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross.

The recipient of several awards in France, Italy, Japan and South Korea, Schlink’s books have been translated into 39 languages.

A member of PEN Centre Germany, Schlink currently divides his time between Berlin and New York.

More about Bernhard Schlink

Genres: Literary Fiction, Mystery, Philosophy

Born: 1944


Non Series

  • The Reader - Der Vorleser (1995)
  • Homecoming - Die Heimkehr (2006)
  • Guilt about the Past - Vergangenheitsschuld (2007)
  • The Gordian Knot - Die gordische Schleife (2009)
  • The Weekend - Das Wochenende (2010)
  • The Woman on the Stairs - Die Frau auf der Treppe (2014)
  • Olga - Olga (2020)


  1. Flights of Love - Liebesfluchten (2000)
  2. Summer Lies - Sommerlügen (2010)

Gerhard Self

  1. Self's Punishment - Selbs Justiz (1987)
  2. Self's Deception - Selbs Betrug (1992)
  3. Self's Murder - Selbs Mord (2001)

Detailed book overview

Non Series

The Reader

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime.

As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

The Reader
Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Lena Olin, Vijessna Ferkic
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Der Vorleser
First Release: 1995
ISBN: 978-0375707971
Publisher: Vintage

A child of World War II, Peter Debauer grew up with his mother and scant memories of his father, a victim of war. Now an adult, Peter embarks upon a search for the truth surrounding his mother's unwavering--but shaky--history and the possibility of finding his missing father after all these years. The search takes him across Europe, to the United States, and back: finding witnesses, falling in and out of love, chasing fragments of a story and a person who may or may not exist.

Within a maze of reinvented identities, Peter pieces together a portrait of a man who uses words as one might use a change of clothing, as he assumes a new guise in any given situation simply to stay alive.

The chase leads Peter to New York City, where he hopes to find the real person behind the disguises. Operating under an assumed identity of his own, Peter unravels the secrets surrounding Columbia University's celebrated political science professor and best-selling author John de Baur, who is known for his incendiary philosophy and the charismatic rapport he has with his students. 

Terrifying mind games challenge Peter's ability to bring to light the truth surrounding his family history while still holding on to the love of a woman who promises a new life, free of lies and deceit.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Die Heimkehr
First Release: 2006
ISBN: 978-0375725579
Publisher: Vintage
Guilt about the Past

The six essays that make up this compelling book view the long shadow of past guilt both as a uniquely German experience and as a global one. Bernhard Schlink explores the phenomenon of guilt and how it attaches to a whole society, not just to individual perpetrators. He considers how to use the lesson of history to motivate individual moral behavior, how to reconcile a guilt-laden past, how the role of law functions in this process, and how the theme of guilt influences his own fiction.

Based on the Weidenfeld Lectures he delivered at Oxford University, Guilt About the Past is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand how events of the past can affect a nation's future. Written in Bernhard Schlink's eloquent but accessible style, it taps in to worldwide interest in the aftermath of war and how to forgive and reconcile the various legacies of the past.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Vergangenheitsschuld
First Release: 2007
ISBN: 978-0887849596
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
The Gordian Knot

Georg Polger ekes out a lonely living as a freelance translator in the south of France, until he is approached by a certain Mr. Bulnakov, who has a intriguing proposition: Georg is to take over a local translation agency and finish a project left by the previous owner, who died in a mysterious accident. The money is right and then there is the matter of Bulnakov’s secretary, Francoise, with whom Georg has fallen hopelessly in love.

Late one night, however, Georg discovers Francoise secretly photographing a sensitive military project. He is shocked and heartbroken. Then, her eventual disappearance leaves him not only bereft, but suspicious of the motivations behind Mr. Bulnakov’s offer. To make matters worse, Georg’s every move is being watched.

Determined to find out who Francoise really is, and to foil who ever is tracking him, Georg sets out on an mission that will take him to New York City, where with each step he is dragged deeper and deeper into a deadly whirlpool in which friend and foe are indistinguishable.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Die gordische Schleife
First Release: 2009
ISBN: 978-0375725562
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
The Weekend

Old friends and lovers reunite for a weekend in a secluded country home after spending decades apart. 

They excavate old memories and pass clandestine judgments on the wildly divergent paths they’ve taken since their youth. But this isn’t just any reunion, and their conversations about the old days aren’t your typical reminiscences: After twenty-four years, Jörg, a convicted murderer and terrorist, has been released from prison. 

The announcement of his pardon will send shock waves through the country, but before the announcement, his friends—some of whom were Baader-Meinhof sympathizers or those who clung to them—gather for his first weekend of freedom. They have been summoned by Jörg’s devoted sister, Christiane, whose concern for her brother’s safety is matched only by the unrelenting zeal of Marko, a young man intent on having Jörg continue to fight for the cause.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Das Wochenende
First Release: 2010
ISBN: 978-0307456311
Publisher: Vintage
The Woman on the Stairs

In a museum far from home, a lawyer stumbles across a painting of a woman he once knew, Irene.

Decades before, he had become entangled in her affairs when he was called on to settle a dispute between her husband, who had commissioned the portrait, and the painter of the work—who was also her lover. When, ultimately, the lawyer fell in love with her himself and risked everything for her, she mysteriously disappeared—along with the painting.

Now, face to face with the portrait once again, the lawyer must reconcile his past and present selves. When he eventually locates Irene, he is forced to confront the truth of his love—and the reality that his life has been irrevocably changed. A poignant, intricately crafted novel of obsession, creativity, and love, this is Bernhard Schlink at his peak.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Die Frau auf der Treppe
First Release: 2014
ISBN: 978-1101912348
Publisher: Vintage

Abandoned by her parents, young Olga is raised by her grandmother in a Prussian village in the early years of the twentieth century. Smart and precocious, endearing but uncompromising, she fights against ingrained chauvinism to find her place in a world run by lesser men.

When Olga falls in love with her neighbor, Herbert, the son of a local aristocrat, her life is irremediably changed. While Herbert indulges his thirst for exploration and adventure, Olga is limited by her gender and circumstance. Her love for Herbert goes against all odds and encounters many obstacles, but even when they are separated, it endures.

Unfolding across decades—from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century—and across continents—from Germany to Africa and the Arctic, from the Baltic Sea to the German south-west—Olga is an epic romance, and a wrenching tale of a woman’s devotion to a restless man in an age of constant change. Though Olga exists in the shadows of others, she pursues life to the fullest and her magnetic presence shines—revealing a woman complex, fascinating, and unforgettable.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Olga
First Release: 2020
ISBN: 978-1474611152
Publisher: W&N


Flights of Love

A mesmeric collection of stories about love. In his characteristically unsentimental, elegant and spare prose, Schlink unveils characters and relationships haunted by betrayal and guilt, in situations where self-examination is inescapable.

FLIGHTS OF LOVE consists of seven stories, all of them weaving around the idea of love - why people are drawn to it and why some run away. Schlink shows us in turn love as desire, love as confusion, love as a quick affair, love as a drastic life-changing rebellion, love as a force of habit, love as self-betrayal.

The cumulative effect is a book which uses effortlessly beguiling language to examine the universal human desire to find a lasting loving relationship, however thwarted that desire ultimately is.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Liebesfluchten
First Release: 2000
ISBN: 978-0375725555
Publisher: Vintage
Summer Lies

From Bernhard Schlink, the internationally best-selling author of The Reader, come seven provocative and masterfully calibrated stories. A keen dissection of the ways in which we play with truth and less-than-truth in our lives.

Summer Lies brims with the delusions, the passions, the outbursts, and the sometimes irrational justifications people make within a mélange of beautifully rendered relationships. In ”After the Season,” a man falls quickly in love with a woman he meets on the beach but wrestles with his incongruous feelings of betrayal after he learns she’s rich.

In “Johann Sebastian Bach on Ruegen,” a son tries to put his resentment toward his emotionally distant father behind him by proposing a trip to a Back festival but soon realizes, during his efforts to reconnect, that it wasn’t his father who was the distant one.

A philandering playwright is accused to infidelity by his wife in “The Night in Baden-Baden,” but he sees her accusations as nothing more than a means to exculpate himself of his guilt as he carries on with his ways. And in “Stranger in the Night,” an obliging professor becomes an accomplice—not entirely unwittingly—to the temporary escape of a charismatic fugitive on a delayed flight from New York to Frankfurt.

The truth, as once character puts it, is “passionate, beautiful sometimes, and sometimes hideous, it can make you happy and it can torture you, and it always sets you free.” Tantalizingly, so is the act of telling a lie—to others and to ourselves.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Sommerlügen
First Release: 2010
ISBN: 978-0307948328
Publisher: Vintage

Gerhard Self

Self's Punishment

As a young man, Gerhard Self served as a Nazi prosecutor. After the war he was barred from the judicial system and so became a private investigator. He has never, however, forgotten his complicity in evil.

Hired by a childhood friend, the aging Self searches for a prankish hacker who’s invaded the computer system of a Rhineland chemical plant. But his investigation leads to murder, and from there to the charnel house of Germany’s past, where the secrets of powerful corporations lie among the bones of numberless dead. 

What ensues is a taut, psychologically complex, and densely atmospheric moral thriller featuring a shrewd, self-mocking protagonist.

NB: Co-authored with Walter Popp.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Selbs Justiz
First Release: 1987
ISBN: 978-0375709074
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Self's Deception

Gerhard Self, the dour private detective, returns in this riveting crime novel about terrorism, governmental cover-up, and the treacherous waters where they mix.

Leo Salger, the daughter of a powerful Bonn bureaucrat, is missing, and Self has been hired to find her. His investigation initially leads him to a psych ward at a local hospital, where he is made to believe that Leo fell from a window and died. Self soon discovers, however, that Leo is alive and well and that she was involved in a terrorist incident the government is feverishly trying to keep under wraps. 

The result is a wildly entertaining, superbly nuanced thriller that follows one detective’s desire to uncover the truth, wherever it may lead.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Selbs Betrug
First Release: 1992
ISBN: 978-0375709081
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Self's Murder

Gerhard Self, the seventy-something, sambuca-drinking, Sweet-Afton smoking sleuth returns in a riveting new mystery about money-laundering, murder, and mafiosi.

Despite his failing health and his girlfriend's pleading, Gerhard Self won't stop doing what he does best—investigating. And his most recent case is one of the most intriguing of his career. Herr Welker desperately wants to write a history of his bank, but to do so he needs Self to track down a mysterious silent partner.

Self takes the job, but is soon accosted by a man who frantically hands him a suitcase full of cash and speeds off in a car, only to crash into a tree, dying instantly.

Perplexed, and convinced there is more to the case than he is being told, Self follows the money. Soon he finds himself traveling to eastern Germany, where he encounters some of the most unsavory villains he has met yet.

Author: Bernhard Schlink
Original Title: Selbs Mord
First Release: 2001
ISBN: 978-0375709098
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard