Wolf, Christa 1929–
Wolf is an East German novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Realistic and often autobiographical, her work reflects the political pressures and turbulence she has witnessed in her country. Because of its inherent criticism and analysis, some of her fiction has suffered censorship from the East German government. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)
The theme of alienation in contemporary East German novels is most pronounced in Christa Wolf's The Quest for Christa T. Here, a young woman, as narrator, tries to piece together the life of her friend Christa T., who died of leukemia at the age of thirty-five. (p. 13)
In outline form, the story seems trivial. There is nothing outstanding or remarkable about Christa T. But, that is exactly the point. Christa Wolf writes about an average woman in East Germany, and she wants to understand why this woman is "drained" of her exuberance for life. In this respect, a disease, leukemia, is used metaphorically, as Solzhenitsyn uses it in Cancer Ward: Christa T. is suffering from a social sickness, which emanates from pathological conditions in her society. The narrator of the story feels compelled to analyze this sickness because she, too, may become "infected," and hence, seeks a cure.
As in Kant's Die Aula, there is a dialectical relationship established between the narrator and her material. The past life and development of Christa T. are critically examined in the present so that the future may be changed. Using notes and diaries bequeathed her by Christa T., the narrator reconstructs the picture of a woman who had great hopes about contributing as a teacher to socialist development in the German Democratic Republic. However, these hopes were dampened by the hypocrisy and rigidity of petty bureaucrats....
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[Moskauer Novelle] is constructed around the pattern: German woman falls in love with Russian man, yet both renounce this love. In this first publication, Christa Wolf has already found the theme that will occupy her exclusively: human, personal relations in juxtaposition to the demands of a socialist society. Der geteilte Himmel repeats this theme, this time applied to the two Germanies. The novel centers on the separation of Rita, who remains in the East, from her boy friend Manfred, who leaves for the West. After a break-down, Rita relives in the hospital her time with Manfred, their discussions, their decisions. Convalescence indicates not just a physical recovery but a spiritual process, an affirmation of life in the GDR. Christa Wolf tries to show how such a decision is not motivated by considerations of imperialism and capitalism versus communism, but that it is first and foremost a profoundly human decision that involves two individuals. East German critics immediately attacked the novel for insufficient ideological conviction and decadent subjectivism and found much fault with the fact that Manfred, the intellectual, leaves East Germany while Rita makes her decision on the basis of feelings and cannot even give ideologically convincing reasons for her actions. Reviews of this novel in East and West Germany may again serve as yardsticks for the entirely different points of view on either side of the "divided skies." While East...
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The reconstruction of developmental years lived in the arena dominated by National Socialism once again proves itself a valid literary undertaking. The success of Wolf's [Kindheitsmuster] … affirms the durability of this thematic material.
The narrative-time structure of this work … is as complex as it is successful. The focal point is a two-day visit by narrator and family to the small town of her birth—now in Poland—in July 1971. This brief span of hours retrospectively becomes the threshold from which the narrator reenters her early life at that point in 1932 when, at the age of three, she consciously used the word "I" for the first time…. [The] growth of the narrative is painstakingly dated through contrapuntal references to events in Vietnam and Chile and to such dissimilar persons as General Pinochet and Daniel Ellsberg. The account gains further tension through a fourth time dimension, centered upon the narrator's teen-age daughter, in whose eyes are reflected events of which she has no direct experience.
This careful study of the past results in a panorama of historical universality; the review of these events from an adult perspective places central emphasis upon the nature and function of the individual within this context. The major question, "How did we become what we are?" is confronted by the disturbing inquiry: "Can every human being be turned into a beast?"
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Christa Wolf's latest work Kindheitsmuster (1976) is her first attempt to give a comprehensive account of the exceptional and traumatic social upheavals which accompanied the crucial formative years of her childhood…. For Christa Wolf who is anxious not merely to document and give shape to its influence on her own early years, but also to clarify the lingering, ill-defined effects on the present, there also arises the difficulty of narrative method…. The narrative structure devised for Kindheitsmuster offers a complex and ingenious answer to these problems. The novel moves over three different time spans…. Christa Wolf moves effortlessly back and forth between these different time levels, weaving them into a web of association and implication between past and present to produce a novel which is about memory, about journeys actual and metaphorical, about the tantalising pursuit of formative childhood experiences and the influences which have made her and her generation what they are. (pp. 19-20)
For Christa Wolf … the true feel and significance of the years spent under National Socialism cannot be rendered through the organisation of factual historical detail about the period…. Christa Wolf sees the task … of the literary imagination not only to speculate about the range of emotions which lay beneath the surface appearance [of socio-political events] but, more importantly, to cancel the treacheries of memory...
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It is no coincidence that the contemporary German novelists most readily associated with the theme of war-guilt are all from West Germany….
The literature of East Germany [has focused] … overwhelmingly on the present and future, the building-up of socialism and the bright hope it represents….
It is against this background that the measure of Christa Wolf's achievement in her new work, Kindheitsmuster, must be judged. "What is past is not dead", she begins provocatively, "It is not even past. We separate ourselves from it and pretend to be strangers." The past that she then proceeds to evoke is her own, those years from 1932 to 1946 when, between the ages of three and seventeen, the "patterns of childhood" to which the title refers were formed….
[The narrative of the fictional-autobiographical family], however, occupies barely half of the book, for parallel with it runs an account of a two-day visit in July 1971, by Christa Wolf, her husband, her brother, and Lenka, her fourteen-year-old daughter, back to Landsberg, which now lies in Poland and is called Gorzów Wielkopolski. But this is no sentimental journey: it is a reckoning with a past that still haunts and, with the presence of Lenka, an attempt to explain to a contemporary teenager how these things could have happened. The confrontation of two epochs in the form of mother and daughter is one of the book's greatest strengths. Not...
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