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Christa Wolf, 1929 - 2011

Her most popular novel, The Divided Sky, was adapted by Konrad Wolf.
The DailyChrista Wolf

Christa Wolf, one of the best-known writers from the former East Germany whose works described war and politics from a woman's perspective, has died," reports the AP. "She was 82."

"Her first big success was the novel Divided Heaven, which deals with the divided Germany," noted Die Zeit in a biographical sketch that accompanied an interview that ran in 2005. "The book won her the prestigious East German Heinrich Mann Prize, and was made into a movie by East German filmmaker Konrad Wolf in 1964."

From that lengthy interview conducted by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns and Stephan Lebert and translated by signandsight: "It's still my book with the highest run. One of the official reproaches in the GDR, apart from criticism of its content, was to say that it was written in too 'modern' a fashion. I can't say it still corresponds to my idea of literature at its best. But after that I wrote a story called 'Juninachmittag' ('An Afternoon in June'). That was when I became filled with a new desire to write, that's when my brand of realism emerged, and my courage to write that kind of realism. If you like, the result was my formula of 'subjective authenticity.' Of course in the GDR that was a bone of contention because it didn't correspond to the vulgar realism that was being propagated, and because at the time no one understood what I was doing. But it was clear to me I'd found my direction. Everything else was out of the question."

Konrad Wolf's adaptation "was made during the brief 'thaw' of the 60s," noted Sean Axmaker last summer in a review of First Run's DVD, "when socially daring and politically critical films were allowed to be produced. I find it amazing it got made at all even in that relatively tolerant period, where the degree of freedom can be considered lenient only in comparison to the restrictions of the past (and, as it turned out, the near future). Renate Blume stars in the coming of age film set in 1950s East Germany and she’s introduced in a state of crippling depression, suffering from 'nervous break,' according to the doctor. 'Thus begins our story,' informs the narrator, making this the narrative baseline: not the ideals of socialism in action, but the disillusionment of a once idealistic young woman."

Back to that 2005 interview: "I've just finished a very good PD James. Sometimes my grandchildren tell me to write a crime novel myself. I think, why not? But it doesn't work. You have to start with a murder, otherwise it won't work. But I can't describe a murder, I can't describe a person that murders. Even as a child I had a strong fear of being physically wounded. I think I try to suppress the absolutely irrational element which to some extent rules our world, especially in my writing. I try to create a room where the irrational, when it has power like in Cassandra and Medea, is counterweighted by, yes, humane values."

Update: From Spiegel Online, compiled from the wires: "Although widely praised for her contributions to German literature, Wolf's public image was damaged for not being critical enough of the former communist regime. It took another hit in the early 1990s when it was revealed that, for a period of nearly three years during the 1950s and 1960s, she had served as an informant to East Germany's feared secret police, the Stasi. Still, Wolf's relationship to the East German regime was far from straightforward and she was spied on by the state for a far longer period than she served it as an informant. 'Wolf was an enormously significant figure, regarded until 1990 as someone who carefully and delicately expanded the boundaries of what could be said in East Germany,' Georgina Paul, an expert in East German literature at Oxford University, told Reuters."

Update, 12/13: "As long as there was an East Germany, Wolf was an East German writer," writes Sally McGrane for the New Yorker. "But she wasn't just an East German writer. In the days since her death, one hears over and over the lament that never again will a German authoress capture the attention of so many. Her impact was the result of a confluence of politics — only in an authoritarian state are writers so important — and an ear for the issues and concerns of the day, be it the building of the wall, the pain of the Nazi past, the search for a new and better society, women's rights or environmental problems. Her readings — often held in churches, one of the few places in the GDR where dissidents could meet freely — drew hundreds, even thousands, both before and after the wall came down…. Chance, and the power of political systems to shape the course that lives took, were two themes she explored relentlessly."

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