Parting from Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-1994by Christa Wolf
Parting from Phantoms is a window into the soul of the most prominent writer of the German Democratic Republic and its most famous export, Christa Wolf. The essays, diary entries, and letters in this book document four agonizing years in Wolf's personal history and paint a vivid portrait of the cultural and political situation in the former German Democratic/i>… See more details below
Parting from Phantoms is a window into the soul of the most prominent writer of the German Democratic Republic and its most famous export, Christa Wolf. The essays, diary entries, and letters in this book document four agonizing years in Wolf's personal history and paint a vivid portrait of the cultural and political situation in the former German Democratic Republic. This collection stands as an important testimony to the personal and cultural costs of German reunification.
"The works in this book constitute an essential document of the history of reunified Germany, and this alone recommends it to scholars and those interested in current European events."— Publishers Weekly
"Christa Wolf was arguably the most influential writer of a nation that no longer exists. . . . Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish. . . . In some ways, the rawness of the present volume is its greatest contribution, and its bona fides—testifying to the human cost of deception and self-deception."—Todd Gitlin, Nation
"A thrilling display of ideological soul-searching."—Ilan Stavans, Newsday, Favorite Books of 1997
Parting From Phantoms chronicles Wolf's personal and intellectual post-Wall travails, from a protest speech she gave on the night of the government's collapse to her eloquent defense of her 40 years of adult life under communism (she was 16 at the end of World War II). The book includes essays, lectures, letters, diary entries and interviews. Wolf repeatedly returns to the idea that East Germans have a right to their history, that it was more than "a repellent monotony of oppression and scarcity." She chides market-driven Westerners "who are capable of imagining anything in the whole wide world except the possibility that anyone could wish to live a different sort of life than they do." And after all the polemics and fighting to control history, Wolf concludes that "'the truth' about this time and about our lives must come from literature."
Arranged chronologically, the collection would have benefited from an introduction giving background to Wolf's public battles. As is, the specific accusations against Wolf appear within a probing interview with Gunter Gaus that appears well into the book. Still, this difficult, prickly collection is much like Wolf herself -- unsparing, intelligent, dissident, passionate -- and it offers an invaluable view into the "other side" of German unification. SalonOct. 17, 1997
After the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, Wolf was pilloried in the West German press for two reasons. First, having been a privileged figure in East Germany, she had the bad judgment to publish a story showing how she, too, had been persecuted by the East German secret police. This rang hypocritical to some, even though Wolf had been a dissident since the late 1960s. Second, and more damaging, it came to light that from 1959 to '62 Wolf was an "unofficial collaborator" with the secret police (though none of the information she gave was damaging to anyone but herself). The present collection of essays, letters, diary entries, and speeches mainly comprises Wolf's responses to her critics and detractors. Though the attacks have plainly wounded her deeply, she does not run for cover, but stands her ground with clear-eyed self-critique and self-defense. In an exchange of letters she tells Günter Grass that she and her husband chose to remain in the East German police state because they thought they might "have an influence there, which would not have been possible if I had pranced around too much in the Western media." She relates her reluctance to see East Germany become part of West Germany to her 1984 novel Cassandra, in which she presents East Germany as Troy, doomed to destruction. Yes, the East was doomed to fall, but not necessarily to be swallowed whole by larger, richer West Germany: The utopian Wolf did not advocate "preserving or restoring the old GDR. For a very brief moment in history we were thinking about an entirely different country. . . ." Wolf's enemies will not be persuaded, but on the whole she acquits herself well.
A rare view of life from the perspective of East Germany. Essential reading for anyone interested in Europe's intellectual life.
- University of Chicago Press
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