Kunze, Reiner 1933–
Kunze is an East German poet and novelist now living in West Germany. He was recently expelled from his country for the West German publication of The Wonderful Years, a novel quietly caustic about life in East Germany. This novel won the 1977 George Büchner Prize, West Germany's most important literary award.
Diether H. Haenicke
The student of East German literature is painfully aware of the fact that the preponderance of all poetry originating in that country must still be labelled versified propaganda. There are few writers whose poetry deserves our attention and respect. Without any doubt Reiner Kunze belongs in this category. A poet of the younger generation, he chooses to live in the Communist part of Germany identifying himself with the Marxist doctrine, however not necessarily with the government of the country in which he resides. His new volume of poetry [Zimmerlautstärke] is weighty, though small, containing only some forty poems, which are grouped together in four major division. Kunze's poems, with very few exceptions, all reflect in one way or another the political conditions in his country: intimidation through government officials, the monotony of the party celebrations, travel restrictions imposed on the citizenry by the government, the iron curtain, and so on. Toward Peter Huchel and Wolf Biermann, East German poets dissenting from the official party line, Kunze courageously shows his reverence in three poems. Although all poems are supposed to be spoken in Zimmerlautstärke, (with turned down volume) one must assume that it takes intrepidity to write and to publish them.
Kunze's style is laconic, terse and concise. He often reduces his poems to one observation followed by a very brief reflection or comment. Thus, some poems consist of only three or four lines. This extreme economy lends his verse an epigrammatic character which settles it in the familiar neighborhood of Brecht's "minimal" poems. Given the limited freedom of expression he finds in his country, Kunze's latest book of verse is a most remarkable and note-worthy document of contemporary East German poetry. (p. 139)
Diether H. Haenicke, in Books Abroad (copyright 1974 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 48, No. 1, Winter, 1974.
Reiner Kunze's … writing is spare, outward in its address, but quick with character, with a strange blend of urgency and philosophic calm, giving very sharply the sense of a life lived, in the face of severe restraints, almost entirely out of its own vitality….
Kunze is one of the wittiest critics of repressive aspects of the East German regime, and he makes some telling points against the logic of that repression…. At the same time, the poems make it clear that to write means to live not only with frustration, but with fear. Under these conditions, even their aims as Socialist poets suffer violence. Minimal poetry takes on a new sense, not what survives the critical process, but simply what survives. This is movingly expressed in 'Like Things Made Of Clay.'… (p. 107)
Roger Garfitt, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), June-July, 1974.
["The Wonderful Years" is a] little collection of quiet-voiced sketches and anecdotes about the gray oppressiveness, the dead-faced brutality of life under the East German Communist régime, with its policemen and its police dogs….
Reiner Kunze's book is an act of heroism. As a piece of literature it is quite modest, and modest in its manner. It is not entirely free from sentimentality about the young. Perhaps a certain delicacy it has suffers in translation; but it will not do to overpraise it…. How one hates the roar of publicity which envelops these heroic works. I think of the overpraised "Dr. Zhivago," of the overpraised novels of Solzhenitsyn. By all means let us praise the courage of these writers. But literary truth is important too.
Martin Greenberg, "Everyday Misery in East Germany," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 24, 1977, p. 15.