Johnson, Uwe (Vol. 15)
Johnson, Uwe 1934–
Johnson, a novelist, was born in East Germany and has lived in West Berlin since 1959. His novels portray the conflict of a divided Germany, focusing on people lost between two worlds and two generations. Johnson strives for journalistic objectivity and clarity in his work. (See also CLC, Vols. 5, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
[A major reason for the positive reception of Mutmassungen über Jakob] is Johnson's success in the creation of characters….
Most obscure, yet most alluring is Jakob, the novel's hero. As the title suggests, the speculations are about him. The state agent Rohlfs, Jakob's "adopted" sister Gesine, Jonas,… the narrator, and the reader conjecture about Jakob. But not only with regard to the hero and the other figures in the novel is there uncertainty. The plot itself is clear only in its barest outlines; even they seem capable of being misread. (p. 215)
We learn about … occurrences through the people around Jakob and through the narrator, who, far from omniscient, takes part in their speculations. Although the more remote past is touched upon, their questions concern primarily the last few weeks in Jakob's life and focus on his ideological orientation. What was his relationship with Rohlfs? What accounts for Gesine's safe conduct to the West? None of these questions is unequivocally answered for us. The nexuses in the plot remain obscure. We, as all participants in conjecture, know only part of the facts.
Yet, the quest for Jakob is by no means a gratuitous chase. If we direct our attention to its presuppositions, we gain a perspective for reading the novel that lends meaning to the search. Those who surmise about Jakob—the reader joins in empathetically—see him primarily in terms of a...
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Robbe-Grillet and Johnson share the same literary heritage. The "crise du réel" that is common to the novels of Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, and Beckett is also at the center of their works. Absolute, unquestionable values and certainties no longer exist. Everything is subject to doubt. The rational, stable bourgeois world of Balzac has crumbled…. Robbe-Grillet discusses the author's position in this world of changing realities and explains at length his theories on the role of the new novel in a series of essays assembled in Pour un Nouveau Roman. Uwe Johnson states his views on literature in a short essay entitled, "Berlin, Border of the Divided World." He shows the difficulties that he encounters in conveying to the reader the truth and complexity of a simple, observable incident: a man getting off a train that has just crossed the border dividing the Eastern and Western sections of Berlin. In addition, interviews and above all their own works are ample proof that both writers are aware of the opaqueness and complexity of our world and yet are equally dedicated to giving expression to it. (pp. 185-86)
[The] search for truth and reality and their concern not to betray it create some basic affinities between these authors.
Some of these similarities emerge in a comparison of their views regarding the author's position in a text. The absence of the omniscient author eliminates psychological analysis of characters...
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Roderick H. Watt
Johnson's use of documentary material and style fulfils an important function in the structural organization of [Das dritte Buch über Achim and] a correct understanding of this leads to a deeper enjoyment and better appreciation of the controlling aesthetic, the unifying formal principle of the whole work. (p. 240)
[In this novel] a fictional narrator from the Federal German Republic tries to describe the difficulties encountered in the German Democratic Republic by a fellow-countryman, Karsch, in his attempt to write the official biography of Achim, a current sporting hero and member of parliament in the GDR. Both the narrator, as we see in the first three pages of the book, and Karsch have consciously to resist and examine critically the standard ideological prejudices and linguistic clichés of both East and West in their search for the truth. The very structure of the novel creates this problem and is the formal expression of it. Throughout the novel there is constant tension between so-called fact or documentary evidence and its susceptibility to differing ideological interpretations. On numerous occasions there are passages written in a documentary style, with obsessively precise, pedantically objective descriptions of things or events which seem to leave no room for the possibility of diverging interpretations. Such passages, however, merely represent a passing sigh of relief from the writer that, for a brief period at...
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Page R. Laws
For Uwe Johnson, all of life is intensely political, so he chooses to place his fictional characters in the kind of moral dilemmas created by real political events. No Johnson character succeeds in living a truly private life, untouched by public concerns….
[Anniversaries] is a continuation of [his] prior themes—East vs. West, socialism vs. democracy, but in a new cadre that should finally win Johnson a larger American audience. This time he writes about a woman's choice to live in America, and in the very worst of political times.
Anniversaries is the story of a young German woman, Gesine Cresspahl (the same Gesine as in [Johnson's earlier novel] Speculations), and her ten-year-old daughter Marie (born of Gesine's affair with Jakob in Speculations), living on Riverside Drive in New York City. The novel takes the form of dated entries, each covering approximately a day of an eventful period starting on August 20, 1967. Since the German title Jahrestage means "the days of one year" as well as "anniversaries," the work must therefore end on August 20, 1968, in the yet-to-be-published fourth volume.
The scope of Anniversaries is by no means limited to one year in the life of Gesine; it is part of a larger project to convey her whole life. Johnson himself calls it a "biography." In addition to experiencing the shocks of current events in New York in...
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