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Jörg Magenau

Christa Wolf: Eine Biographie (Christa Wolf: a Biography)

Kindler Verlag GmbH, March 2002. 496pp.
ISBN 3-463-40394-3

One of the GDR's most famous and influential writers, Christa Wolf was born in 1929. This biography examines her life against the backdrop of the Third Reich, the rise of the GDR, the fall of the Berlin wall, and beyond. Throughout it the author draws on Wolf's fiction (Der geteilte Himmel, Nachdenken über Christa T., Kindheitsmuster, Kassandra, Was bleibt and so on), and explores and illuminates the complex relationship between an author's personal experiences and the reflection of these in her writing. He also addresses the different attitudes to Wolf, from the warm ('The moral mother of the GDR nation') to the critical ('The GDR state poet'). Necessarily for a GDR writer, her work is also discussed in the light of GDR cultural policy.

The book is well-researched and footnoted, but nevertheless very readable. It focuses on Wolf's contacts in the political and literary worlds rather than on her personal relationships (for instance with her husband and children). It has clearly been written with its subject's cooperation. A recurring theme is illness - ranging, in Wolf's case, from depression to heart attacks - as an escape from personal and political difficulties. Wolf's loyalty both to the GDR itself and to socialism, and the compromises she and others were compelled to make in order to be able to continue to write in the GDR, are also dealt with. This includes the scandal exposed in 1993 of her cooperation with the state security (Stasi) of the GDR and the negative reception of her story Was bleibt. This excellent first comprehensive biography of a very interesting contemporary writer leaves the reader curious for her literary texts, her autobiographically informed pieces and whatever she may write in the future.

For the British and American reader, Christa Wolf is probably one of the very few names known from the GDR literary scene. Even for those without a detailed knowledge of her work the book is of interest because of the political climate in which its subject grew up, started writing, developed as a writer, and continues to write. peal.


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