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147 reviews What is new and appalling in this picture of one East German girl's adolescence is her account of the months and years of cold and starvation which she and her family experienced during their 1945-49 flight from the Russians. Here Wolf relies on preternaturally clear and ineradicable memories. When she and her family at last find what they think is a "haven" from the Russians in a small Mecklenburg village, it is under American control. The Americans make Wolf feel safe but arouse her antipathy by gifts of "rubbery Spam," candies , and by their gum chewing. But the Americans do not stay long. First they ae replaced by an incompetent British officer; and finally, the "haven" becomes the part of Germany to be controlled by the U .S.S.R. Yet the irony is not done turning even here. Nineteen-yearold Wolf receives her first lessons about venereal disease from a Russian woman doctor ordered to examine all female refugees for symptoms of syphilis and gonorrhea. Her horror at finding out "what men do to women" is balanced against her hatred of the doctor for calling the women "pigs." Yet at the same time, she discovers that Russian army officers are not "heroes" but "slightly comical" — though also helpful when it comes to protecting German women from their own enlisted men who want to rape the starved refugees. It is during these nightmare years that Wolf also has her first lesson in the blindness of her fellow Landsberg residents. Huddled close to a small fire, her generous mother offers a former concentration camp inmate a bowl of watery soup. When the man accepts it gratefully, Wolf's mother asks why he was put in a concentration camp. His answer is simple . He was a Communist. Yes, but why, for what other reason was he put in a concentration camp? he is asked. "Where on earth have you all been living?" he replies. The story of Wolf's childhood and youth ends in 1949 when she is released from a hospital, cured of tuberculosis brought on by cold and malnutrition; then, in The Questfor Christa T., we get a picture of East German life as it must have been for a non-conformist artist between 1953 and 1962. So we have a gap between Wolfs own life as it was at age twenty and as it was for a middle-aged writer and mother in the 1970's. We do not learn how the once-ardent Hitlerian, the fanatic hater of Communists and Russians, came to accept the "socialist" Germany and its separation from the Federal Republic. We can only speculate that amongst those of Wolfs generation, East Germany must certainly have held many "Christa T.'s," living or dead, in body or in soul. Those who have become "survivors ," like Wolf herself, have had to learn to go just so far and no farther. Yet even given such symptomatic repressions, constrictions, and absences, now that the U.S. government has recognized East Germany's political existence for almost ten years, it is high time we also recognize its considerable body of good literature: not just "socialist realism" or these half-modernist, half-realist texts, but imaginative, absurdist poetry by a number of writers well-known in England and on the continent but not here — men like Hans Arp, Manfred Bieler, and Gunter Kunert, to name three. Farrar, Straus and Giroux are to be congratulated for publishing two of Wolf's books. We may well hope that they will attract a fair-sized American audience, some of which wiU go on as well to read the English translation of Christa Wolf's first novel, Der Geteilte Himmel (The Divided Heaven, available in a translation by Joan Gecker from Adler Publishers). This book, which had its first East German printing in 1963, only two years after "the Wall," is a story of a love doomed by the fact that one of the pair goes to the West while the other has to remain behind. The physical wall may remain for many years; that between us and East German literature could be destroyed. To quote one of Christa T...


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pp. 147-150
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