Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The novel, which chronicles the years 1933 to 1962, starts with the narrator’s attempt to rescue her dead friend Christa T. from oblivion. While randomly sifting through a box of writings left behind by Christa T., the narrator remembers her friend’s life and passion. Already at school, where Christa T. and the narrator meet in 1944, it is apparent that Christa T. is different from the other pupils, and even though the narrator is unwilling to admit it, it is this difference—or Christa T.’s indifference to her surroundings—that fascinates the narrator. Soon, however, the two girls lose sight of each other in the turbulence of the war. It is not until 1951 that they, now both students in Leipzig, meet again by accident. In the course of their reunion, the narrator hears about Christa T.’s last seven years: cutting out uniforms on a Mecklenburg farm, working in the fields, and finally, after a nervous breakdown, deciding to do her part for the state by becoming a teacher. In her eagerness to participate, however, Christa T. is ill prepared for the reality of her students, who less than ever resemble the picture of the new socialist citizen painted by the Party and the enthusiasm of the “Aufbau” years. What she is confronted with instead is the likes of Hammarubi, a student who, prompted by a bet, bites off the head of a toad—just for sport; another pupil who climbs a poplar tree and willfully smashes a bird’s eggs against a boulder; and, finally,...

(The entire section is 586 words.)