First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Orphaned at an early age, Olga lives with her grandmother in a small Prussian village. Unloved by her grandmother and different from the local children, Olga grows up a lonely soul – until she meets Herbert. The son of a local aristocrat, Herbert is different, too: a dreamer. Olga is quickly drawn to his adventurous spirit.
Though hindered by her modest means, Olga is determined to become a teacher – and succeeds. Herbert decides to join the army and volunteers to go to German South West Africa – now Namibia – where he falls in love with the grand, empty expanse of the desert. But he also participates in the brutal war against the Herero, and as Olga reads his letters, her view of him darkens. Then one day Herbert embarks on a quixotic mission into the Arctic, and Olga’s loyalty is put to the test.
By the end of World War II, Olga’s life has seen irreversible changes. She starts a new life in the West, making her living as a seamstress. That’s how Olga befriends Ferdinand, a young boy who loves her attention and her quirks. In his adulthood, Ferdinand will find a cache of Olga’s letters that reveal the secrets she had hidden from him – and everyone.
Seamlessly shifting between different viewpoints and forms, Olga tells the story of a woman, who like many of her generation, is forced to live below her capacities – next to men who live above theirs. Yet Olga manages to cope with the hardships of her era with strength, dignity, and courage. And she loves against all odds: passionately, desperately, wisely.
It’s finally the weekend! I hope you ended the workweek on a high note and that you are diving into the weekend with a triumphant smile painted on your face. I know many of us are looking forward to it, especially those who had a difficult week at the office. I do hope you get to spend the weekend relaxing and recouping lost energy. I hope you use it to realign your energy and plan ahead for a better week. But more importantly, I hope you are all doing well, in mind, body, and spirit. We’ve had a particularly difficult two years and I know we are all raring to make up for the lost time. However, I still hope that we are not in too much of a rush. COVID19 still remains a threat and any misstep might undo the progress we had in the past year. I fervently hope that the virus gets completely eradicated. Only time will tell.
Before I can dive into the weekends, let me close this past work week with a fresh First Impression Friday update. For the second consecutive month, I have been delving into the works of European literature, a reading journey I started back in May. This journey made me explore the nooks and crannies of the continent. Each book I read made me see different landscapes at different points in time, from the snow-clad Scandinavian regions to the war-torn Balkan region to medieval Italy to Regency-era England. It was a literary feast that kept me filled. Needless to say, it was a magnificent experience because it provided me insights into the continent, its culture, and its diverse population.
To make the journey more interesting, I have been alternating new-to-me writers and not-so-new-to-me writers. Yesterday, I completed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the fourth novel by English writer David Mitchell I read. Earlier today, I started Olga, my first novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink. Schlink has long piqued my interest primarily because his 1995 novel, The Reader is ubiquitous. Despite my initial apprehensions, the book is now part of my want-to-read list. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to obtain a copy of the novel. Instead, I was able to obtain a copy of his latest novel, Olga late in 2021. It was originally published in German in 2018 and translated into English in 2020. While it was not the book I wanted to read, I was still looking forward to the book, curious about what it has to offer; it is also a prelude to The Reader.
The titular Olga is Olga Rinke who was born towards the end of the 19th century in a small town in the Silesian region of Poland. At a young age, she lost her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who disapproved of her son’s marriage, decided to take her granddaughter to Pomerania. Her grandmother was proudly German and wanted her granddaughter to change her name to a more German name. Olga, despite her grandmother’s relentless prodding, refused to give in. Thus, Olga remained to be known as Olga even though it meant that her grandmother saw her as ungrateful. Her new village felt foreign to her although it was riddled with the same poverty she witnessed in Silesia. Rather than attend school, Olga was expected to help tend the farm. But again, she was adamant and instead pursued her education, much to the dismay of her grandmother.
I am done with Part I and I have just started Part II of the book; it seems that the book has three parts. Anyway, Part I can be published as a separate novella for it captured the majority of the landscape of Olga’s life. Part One had two critical parts. The first of which was the portrait of Olga falling in love with Herbert, her childhood friend. However, he was born to an affluent family. His family and their one-time friend Viktoria disapproved of the pairing. The second critical part of Part One saw Olga pursuing her dreams as a teacher. She was tenacious. However, it seemed that her relationship with her grandmother slowly faded into oblivion as the story moved forward.
The story moved forward too quickly for me to inhabit Olga’s mind. It was too general, and if I may say so myself, it was predictable. One thing that stood out, however, was the portrait of Germany at the turn of the century upon which the story was juxtaposed to. It is one of the reasons the book captured my attention. But Part One ended too quickly as it started. I felt it was too flat. It was perfunctory storytelling, lacking emotional involvement from the reader. It only provided glimpses into Olga and her psychological profile. Part Two seems to be more interesting as there is a shift in point of view. The omniscient and flat narrator of Part One was replaced by a character narrating from his (or her) point of view.
I hope the second and third parts provide me a deeper insight into Olga but I can already surmise that the novel is the story of a woman taking over her own destiny and fighting against the odds to make her voice be heard. I am still curious about the reading journey knowing that this is my first novel by Schlink. Olga is a very quick read and I am pretty sure I can complete it over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. For now, happy weekend! And as always, happy reading and take care!