(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The story line of The Quest for Christa T. does not develop in a linear fashion but follows the narrator’s rummaging through the box of papers left behind by Christa T. In this way, the reader gets a glimpse of Christa T. as a sixteen-year-old, a glimpse of her as a child in her native village, writing prose. There is a flash forward to her last days before she dies, then a reconstruction of her life as a student. Each memory is triggered by a piece of writing—a poem, a diary entry in Christa T.’s little brown notebook, notes on receipts and household accounts—and is fleshed out by the narrator’s own memory as well as imaginary conversations with people. The novel’s multilayered structure is not readily accessible. A purposeful vagueness about narrative time and a constant interchanging of narrative perspective further underscore the novel’s complexity. Yet it is these dramatic devices that make for the richness of the novel.

The novel begins with the epitaph “This coming to oneself—what is it?,” a quotation from Johannes R. Becher, cultural minister of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that summarizes the theme of the novel: the question of individual self-actualization (realization) within a socialist state or “the difficulty in saying ‘I’” in a society insisting upon a collective “we.” Although on one level the novel serves as a personal elegy for a childhood friend, The Quest for Christa T. can be read on another level as a critical development of early GDR history, of the kind that cannot be found in official textbooks. The author not only tells the tale of the friendship of two women but also chronicles the life of the generation born in the 1930’s, Wolf’s own generation. She addresses those who, liberated from fascism after the war, immediately and enthusiastically began building the socialist state without coming to terms with the past. With...

(The entire section is 786 words.)