The 2003 republication of A Woman in Berlin incited widespread interest in post–World War II German rape victims. This essay argues for a close reading of the memoir’s narrative craft to counter existing scholarly debate that instead foregrounds the work’s historical accuracy. The autobiography’s anonymous narrator employs two semantic strategies for coping with the Red Army’s sexual violence: first, using language to reconcile with her new reality, and second, using humorous anecdotes to foster community among fellow female victims. With reference to Elaine Scarry’s theories on torture, this essay will demonstrate how the narrator uses language as a buffer between her commanding mind and abused body to preserve her agency while under attack. This is followed with a close analysis of how A Woman in Berlin ignores taboos surrounding rape jokes in its depiction of a female subculture fortified by self-irony and the creative exchange of humorous rape stories. What makes the autobiography so remarkable is not that the narrator tells rape but how she tells it.


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pp. 25-49
Launched on MUSE
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