Christa Wolf 1929–
East German novelist, essayist, short story writer, and editor.
Wolf is a highly acclaimed writer whose controversial novels urge an understanding of and a confrontation with Germany's past and present. Growing up at the time the Nazi regime began to flourish, Wolf witnessed Germany's rise to power, its demise, and its partition. A socialist who chose to remain in the Communist section, Wolf addresses in her writings both the advantages and the limitations of the communist system. This balanced awareness, along with her desire to help the Germans accept their responsibility for Nazism, are the sources of the controversy surrounding her work. Wolf has stated, "What is past is not dead. It is not even past. We separate ourselves from it and pretend to be strangers." On the other hand, the official East German stance claims that the establishment of the German Democratic Republic created a state untainted by complicity with Nazism. In addition to examining subjects which the government would prefer to ignore, Wolf refuses to write in the Socialist-Realist mode of objective, non-experimental writing, producing instead subjective, individualistic works.
Der geteilte Himmel (1963; Divided Heaven) tells of an East German woman who refuses to join her lover in the West, thus emphasizing the disparity between personal satisfaction and total commitment to socialism. An underlying theme is the search for self-identity—a theme more fully developed in Nachdenken über Christa T (1968; The Quest for Christa T). This novel centers on the narrator's struggle to analyze and piece together the life of Christa T, an ordinary woman who is meant to be representative of her generation. Because of its implicit and impartial judgment of life in a communist society and its failure to present a "socialist heroine," the novel lacked official support within the German Democratic Republic.
In the autobiographical Kindsheitmuster (1977; A Model Childhood), Wolf again takes issue with a subject often avoided in East Germany, the acceptance of national guilt. A Model Childhood is Wolf's most ambitious novel in its mingling of past memories with present realities. The story relates a trip taken by the narrator back to the village where she grew up. The narrator grows in self-knowledge as she attempts to confront and explain her acceptance of Nazism to her daughter, who is similarly involved in ideological confusion—in this case, the differences between capitalism and communism.
In a recent novel, Kein Ort. Nirgends (1979; No Place on Earth), Wolf appears to depart from her usual examination of Germany and its recent past to relate a fictional meeting and the tragic fate of two literary figures from the nineteenth century. On another level, however, some commentators maintain that Wolf is yet again making a statement on the individual's place in modern society—"no place on earth."
(See also CLC, Vol. 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)