Monika Maron Essay - Critical Essays

Maron, Monika


Monika Maron 1941-

German novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, and journalist.

The following entry presents an overview of Maron's career through 2001.

Among the most prominent women writers to emerge from the former East German state, Maron is distinguished for her provocative explorations of patriarchal order and the place of women in communist society. Through the use of surrealist imagery and fantastical scenes, an aesthetic embraced by French feminist theorists, Maron evokes a specifically female subjectivity that reveals the conflicted psyche of women under sharply circumscribed political conditions. In each of her novels—Flugasche (1981; Flight of Ashes), Die Überläuferin (1986; The Defector), Stille Zeile Sechs (1991; Silent Close No. 6), and Animal Triste (1996; Animal Triste)—Maron portrays individual women who struggle against the limitations imposed by a variety of father figures, embodied in both individual and institutional forms. While critical of the oppression of women in both pre- and post-unification Germany, Maron often exposes the weaknesses of the female protagonists in her fictional writings. She has also produced several significant collections of personal and political essays, including Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft (1993) and Quer uber die Gleise (2000).

Biographical Information

The daughter of communist and anti-fascist parents, Maron was born in Berlin in 1941 and moved with her family to the eastern, communist-controlled section of the city in 1951. Though she had little contact with her biological father, Maron's relationship with her stepfather, Karl Maron, had a profound influence on her life and work. Karl Maron was the deputy mayor of East Berlin after World War II and became one of the founders of East Germany (GDR). From 1955 to 1963, he served as the GDR Minister of the Interior and was a staunch supporter of Russian premier Joseph Stalin. After completing high school, Maron worked in a factory, studying theater and art history in her spare time. She also spent a period working for the official GDR television network. She began her writing career as a journalist for the magazine Für Dich and the newspaper Wochenpost. In 1976 she left these positions to work as a freelance writer. During this time, Maron was contacted by the Stasi, the GDR secret police, who wanted Maron to act as an informant. For six months in 1977, Maron went on several informational missions into West Berlin for the Stasi. Her reports to the Stasi were sharply critical of the GDR regime and, as a result, she was placed under surveillance herself after she ended her role as an informant in 1978. Maron's compliance with the Stasi was subsequently disclosed after the German reunification, generating considerable controversy surrounding her identity as a dissident author and social critic. Maron's first novel, Flugasche, was completed in 1978, but due to censorship by the GDR authorities, it was not published until 1981. Unlike other female GDR authors such as Christa Wolf and Irmtraud Morgner, Maron's works never received official GDR approval. Subsequently, all of Maron's works had to be published in West Germany, although her writings did enjoy covert circulation within the GDR. Following the publication of her politically-charged correspondence with author Joseph von Westphalen in Trotzdem herzliche Grüβe: Ein deutsch-deutscher Briefwechsel (1988), Maron left the GDR on a three-year visa. During and after the fall of communism in Germany, Maron published several essays on the difficulties of contemporary German politics and her struggles with finding a new German identity. Her harsh criticism of former East German writers and steadfast support for reunification, a position that many East German intellectuals mistrusted or opposed, placed Maron at the center of a heated public debate during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1992 she was awarded the prestigious Heinrich von Kleist Prize for Stille Zeile Sechs.

Major Works

In Flugasche Maron draws upon her own experiences to depict the plight of Josefa Nadler, a journalist sent to investigate pollution and ecological degradation in a small mill town. When Josefa attempts to publish her exposé, she discovers that the government has placed limits on the extent of her criticism. Rather than alter her story, Josefa initially holds out hope that within socialism there lies the possibility of reform, only to become increasingly frustrated with officials who demand that she censor herself. Josefa's disillusionment ultimately causes her to retreat to her bed, where her hopes for the future are found only in the realm of dream and fantasy. The surrealism that characterizes the closing of Flugasche reappears in the opening of Maron's second novel, Die Überläuferin. At the center of the work is Rosalind Polkowski, a historian who awakens to find her legs paralyzed and all her bodily needs apparently suspended. Isolated in her room and freed from the routines of her everyday life, Rosalind's imagination and memories roam at will, evoking interactions with a variety of figures from her past. Through her imaginary wanderings, Rosalind searches for her own identity in a life that was previously determined by GDR social conventions. Like Josefa, Rosalind is only able to find true individual freedom in the isolation of her own fantasies. In Maron's third novel, Stille Zeile Sechs, the character of Rosalind returns. After resigning her position as a historian, Rosalind agrees to type the autobiography of an elderly party functionary, Herber Beerenbaum, a key member of the very political system she detests. Rosalind becomes drawn into conflict with Beerenbaum, because he reminds her of her own dead father and he symbolizes the political ideology that Rosalind blames for her own lack of identity. When Rosalind confronts Beerenbaum with her anger, he collapses and dies, leaving her to feel that she has caused his death. Rosalind then resigns herself to the fact that, despite her best efforts, she has been profoundly shaped by the repressive forces that both her father and Beerenbaum symbolized. Maron's first essay collection, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, includes autobiographical pieces as well as personal reflections on German reunification, abortion rights, and the process of writing. In her fourth novel, Animal Triste, Maron traces the ill-fated affair between the female narrator, a nameless East Berlin paleontologist, and Franz, a scientist from western Germany. The story unfolds from a point in the future after the affair has ended and the narrator has withdrawn from life. Although the novel explores the vagaries of a romance in middle age, it also reflects on the struggle to define individual and collective identity in the wake of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Maron followed Animal Triste with Pawels Briefe (1999; Pavel's Letters), a collection of stories that recount and reflect upon her family history. Pawel was Maron's maternal grandfather, who—though he converted to the Baptist faith—was born a Jew and was deported and murdered during World War II. Throughout the book Maron uses the letters that Pawel wrote to his wife and children as the basis for her accounts of her family's turbulent history and its experiences under fascist and communist regimes. Quer uber die Gleise is a collection of Maron's newspaper articles, speeches, and essays. The volume includes a lengthy and vehement response to critics of Pawels Briefe as well as commentaries on the German national consciousness after reunification. Like many of Maron's previous works, the essays in this collection often focus on the role of memory in both personal and political settings.

Critical Reception

Flugasche has attracted considerable critical attention for its depiction of the role of women in GDR society and for its close examination of how political ideology exerts profound psychological effects on individuals. Reviewers have also commented favorably on Maron's use of fantasy in Flugasche to create an imaginary space in which her protagonist experiences the freedom that socialist ideology denies. Likewise, Die Überläuferin has won acclaim for its analysis of the difficulties women face in establishing their own identities within oppressive social structures. Critics have hailed Maron's use of evocative imagery in the work to portray how women escape oppression and give voice to their own desires. Maron's novels written after the German reunification—Stille Zeile Sechs and Animal Triste—have also earned a favorable critical response. Though some reviewers have found Maron's realism in Stille Zeile Sechs to be stark and contrived, others have lauded how the work raises questions about political and personal responsibility. Animal Triste has been praised for being more accessible than Maron's more surrealistic works and for its use of metaphor to examine complex issues of identity, love, and politics. Unlike her novels, Maron's first collection of essays, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, has received mixed assessments. Though several of the essays have been commended for their stylistic quality and insight, those written during the early days of German reunification have been viewed as dated by critics. Pawels Briefe has drawn the sharpest criticism of all of Maron's works, with reviewers arguing that the volume lacks the passion and honesty that distinguishes Maron's other writings. Moreover, some commentators have regarded Maron's explanations of her early opposition to the GDR, her difficulties with her communist mother, and her association with the Stasi as self-serving and dubiously removed from the purported focus of the book. Maron responded to many of these criticisms in Quer uber die Gleise, which has received largely favorable reviews. As with her novels, reviewers have commended Quer uber die Gleise for the honesty and depth of spirit in Maron's prose.

Principal Works

Flugasche [Flight of Ashes] (novel) 1981

Das Miβverständnis (short stories and play) 1982

Die Überläuferin [The Defector] (novel) 1986

Trotzdem herzliche Grüβe: Ein deutsch-deutscher Briefwechsel [with Joseph von Westphalen] (letters) 1988

Stille Zeile Sechs [Silent Close No. 6] (novel) 1991

Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft: Artikel und Essays (essays and journalism) 1993

Animal Triste [Animal Triste] (novel) 1996

Pawels Briefe: Eine Familiengeschichte [Pavel's Letters] (short stories) 1999...

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Ursula R. Mahlendorf (review date autumn 1987)

SOURCE: Mahlendorf, Ursula R. Review of Die Überläuferin, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 61, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 619.

[In the following review, Mahlendorf offers a positive assessment of Die Überläuferin, noting that the novel is “eminently worth reading.”]

Even with her first narrative and dramatic works, the East German author Monika Maron established a reputation for excellence. Her texts are “admirably exact, imaginative, replete with anguished imagery, rhythmically and stylistically pure,” wrote Reinhard Kill in the Rheinische Post on 21 November 1983. Her second novel, Die Überläuferin (The Deserter),...

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Martin Kane (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Kane, Martin. “Culpabilities of the Imagination: The Novels of Monika Maron.” In Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel in the 1980s, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith, pp. 221-34. New York: Berg, 1990.

[In the following essay, Kane examines the efforts of Maron's female protagonists in Flugasche and Die Überläuferin to articulate the reality of East German life and to confront pressing social problems through inward and alienating modes of solitary fantasy and imaginative dramatization.]

Two sources have given me the cue for this paper. First, the title of Gerd Neumann's Die Schuld der Worte, a...

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Ursula Love (review date summer 1992)

SOURCE: Love, Ursula. Review of Stille Zeile Sechs, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 66, no. 3 (summer 1992): 505.

[In the following review, Love evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

In Monika Maron's third novel [Stille Zeile Sechs] the first-person narrator, Rosalind Polkowski, is a historian in her forties who resigns her job in a research center in East Berlin because she no longer intends to sell her intellect to a political system she abhors. In an act of passive resistance she withdraws into her private life hoping to find some measure of personal freedom by following such whimsical aspirations as learning to play...

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Peter James (review date 20 November 1992)

SOURCE: James, Peter. “A Privileged Grave.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4677 (20 November 1992): 24.

[In the following review of Stille Zeile Sechs, James commends Maron's scathing honesty but finds shortcomings in the work's narrative contrivances.]

For six months during 1985, at a quiet address in East Berlin known as Stille Zeile Sechs, a twice-weekly encounter takes place between a disillusioned forty-two-year-old ex-historian and a decrepit seventy-eight-year-old ex-functionary. The latter, Herbert Beerenbaum, is writing his memoirs, with the former, Rosalind Polkowski, as his amanuensis. Thus the situation of Monika Maron's novel, the first to be...

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Frauke E. Lenckos (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Lenckos, Frauke E. “Monika Maron's The Defector: The Newly Born Woman?” Rackham Journal for the Arts and Humanities (1993): 59-70.

[In the following essay, Lenckos draws upon the feminist philosophy of Hélène Cixous to interpret Maron's subversion of binary patriarchal discourse, notions of female essentialism, and the aesthetic tropes of Romanticism in Stille Zeile Sechs.]

In a recent interview, East German writer Monika Maron states the necessity for women from both West and East Germany to devote themselves to a history perceived and experienced by women.1 She refers in particular to her most recent novel Stille Zeile Sechs...

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Nancy Derr (review date fall 1993)

SOURCE: Derr, Nancy. Review of Silent Close No. 6, by Monika Maron. Belles Lettres 9, no. 1 (fall 1993): 58.

[In the following review, Derr offers a positive assessment of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

Envying the freedom of the stray cat on her street and thoroughly repulsed by having to “think in return for money,” Rosalind Polkowski has finally quit her job at the Barabas research institute, where she has been tediously researching the development of proletarian movements. Alienation, despair, and futility form the core of Polkowski's life, at least until she meets her antithesis: none other than Professor Herbert Beerenbaum. When this well-known brilliant...

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Erlis Glass (review date autumn 1993)

SOURCE: Glass, Erlis. Review of Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 67, no. 4 (autumn 1993): 822-23.

[In the following review, Glass compliments the essays in Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, noting the collection's “honesty and passion.”]

Monika Maron is a well-established contemporary author of novels and short stories. Her most recent novel, Stille Zeile Sechs, appeared in 1991. The twenty articles in Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft include her own autobiographical comments, “Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind”; commentary on the reunification of the Germanies, on writers'...

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Brigitte Rossbacher (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Rossbacher, Brigitte. “(Re)visions of the Past: Memory and Historiography in Monika Maron's Stille Zeile Sechs.Colloquia Germanica 27, no. 1 (1994): 13-24.

[In the following essay, Rossbacher examines Maron's critique and subversion of official GDR history in Stille Zeile Sechs, contending that, by incorporating aspects of personal and collective memory in the novel, Maron reveals the problematic legacy of fascism and communism that is suppressed by uncritical, monumentalized versions of GDR history.]

Gewiβ, wir brauchen Historie, aber wir brauchen sie anders, als sie der verwöhnte Müβiggänger im Garten des Wissens...

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Ricarda Schmidt (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Schmidt, Ricarda. “From Surrealism to Realism: Monika Maron's Die Überläuferin and Stille Zeile Sechs.” In Women and the Wende: Social Effects and Cultural Reflections of the German Unification Process, edited by Elizabeth Boa and Janet Wharton, pp. 247-55. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994.

[In the following essay, Schmidt discusses Maron's shift from an imaginative, internalized exploration of psychic turmoil in Die Überläuferin to the realistic, coherent, and politicized narrative of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

From her surrealist novel Die Überläuferin, written in GDR times, Maron takes three protagonists over into her post-GDR novel...

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Susan C. Anderson (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Anderson, Susan C. “Creativity and Nonconformity in Monika Maron's Die Überläuferin.” In Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture, no. 10, edited by Jeanette Clausen and Sara Friedrichsmeyer, pp. 143-60. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Anderson examines the use of fantasy, memory, and imagination by the heroine of Die Überläuferin as a means of escaping the repressive structures of the authoritarian GDR society.]

Much attention has been devoted to German literary works that deal with the Berlin Wall in an attempt to discover anticipations of its opening or assumptions...

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Erlis Glass-Wickersham (review date winter 1997)

SOURCE: Glass-Wickersham, Erlis. Review of Animal Triste, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 71, no. 1 (winter 1997): 137.

[In the following review, Glass-Wickersham praises Maron's prose in Animal Triste and compliments the novel for being “eminently accessible.”]

Monika Maron lived in the German Democratic Republic until 1988. She now resides in Berlin. Her earlier publications include three novels and a volume of essays in Fischer editions. Her participation in the activities of the Stasi (state-security service) during the post-Wall years has been widely discussed.

Maron's new novel has the interesting title Animal...

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Andrea Reiter (essay date spring 1997)

SOURCE: Reiter, Andrea. “Reunification and Literature: Monika Maron from Die Überläuferin to Stille Zeile Sechs.GDR Bulletin 24 (spring 1997): 67-72.

[In the following essay, Reiter offers a comparative study of the narrative presentation, intertextual perspective, and evolving political consciousness of Maron's characters in Die Überläuferin and Stille Zeile Sechs, particularly how they reflect changing circumstances surrounding the reunification of Germany and Maron's effort to reconcile conflicting aspects of dissidence, passivity, and complicity.]

In 1968 Dieter Wellershoff published his essay “Fiktion und Praxis” as a...

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Alison Lewis (essay date winter 1998)

SOURCE: Lewis, Alison. “Re-Membering the Barbarian: Memory and Repression in Monika Maron's Animal Triste.German Quarterly 71, no. 1 (winter 1998): 30-46.

[In the following essay, Lewis explores the historical, political, and psychoanalytic underpinnings of Animal Triste, drawing attention to the novel's interrelated themes of obsessive love and abandonment, the excavation of repressed memory, and questions of guilt and redemption as they reflect the reality of German reunification and revelations of Maron's Stasi complicity.]

When in 1996 Marcel Reich-Ranicki acclaimed Animal Triste, the latest novel by Monika Maron, as the stroke of genius...

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Irmgard Elsner Hunt (review date autumn 1999)

SOURCE: Hunt, Irmgard Elsner. Review of Pawels Briefe, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 73, no. 4 (autumn 1999): 733-34.

[In the following review of Pawels Briefe, Hunt finds shortcomings in Maron's “self-righteous” tone and lack of compassion.]

Since 1981, Monika Maron has published three novels and a volume of essays. Pawels Briefe (Pawel's Letters) is her fifth major publication. Rather than “a family history,” as the subtitle purports, the volume comprises family stories, reflections on remembering and forgetting, the portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship, and, inevitably, a tracing of German political developments...

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Stephen Brockmann (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Brockmann, Stephen. “The Defense of Childhood and the Guilt of the Fathers.” In Literature and German Reunification, pp. 137-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Brockmann discusses the emergence of “father literature” in the former GDR and identifies Stille Zeile Sechs and Animal Triste as examples of this genre.]

Whereas it had taken three decades for father literature to appear in the Federal Republic, father-son and father-daughter literature from writers of the former GDR began to appear almost immediately. In one typical response, the writer Gabriele Eckart, born in 1954, wrote an angry open...

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Erlis Wickersham (review date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Wickersham, Erlis. Review of Quer uber die Gleise, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2001): 370.

[In the following review, Wickersham compliments Maron's essays in Quer uber die Gleise, calling the collection “clever and readable.”]

Monika Maron has been a controversial figure since the reunification of Germany because of her alleged collusion with the East German regime. She is a prolific writer and essayist, whose latest novel Pawels Briefe: Eine Familiengeschichte, appeared in 1999. Her previous collection of essays, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, was published in 1993. Most of the items in...

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Further Reading


Cooper, Rands Richards. “A Death in the Party.” New York Times Book Review (27 June 1993): 11.

Cooper offers a positive assessment of Stille Zeile Sechs, but notes that the English translation of the novel is seriously flawed.

Isenberg, Noah. “The Bug Man.” New York Times Book Review (19 March 2000): 20.

Isenberg evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Animal Triste.

Kloetzer, Sylvia. “Patterns of Self-Destruction: Christa Wolf's What Remains and Monika Maron's Flight of Ashes.” In Other Germanies: Questioning Identity in Women's Literature and...

(The entire section is 466 words.)