Parting from Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-1994

Parting from Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-1994

by Christa Wolf
     
 

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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

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Overview

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

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Editorial Reviews

Independent Magazine
Not just a portrait of Christa Wolf in spiritual exile but a magnificent testament to the heartache of recent German times, and the mutual misunderstanding of the political left of east and west.
Todd Gitlin
Christa Wolf was arguable the msot influentila writer of a nation that no longer exists. . . .Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish.
The Nation
Booknews
A collection of Wolf's essays form 1990-94; also includes short and fragmentary pieces, such as diary entries, letters, notes, transcripts of conversations, and experimental writings. The texts often focus on Wolf's reactions to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and her views of reunified Germany. She cautions against nostalgia about the GDR and demonstrates her reservations about the current status of Germany. The book includes correspondence from G<:u>nter Grass, J<:u>rgen Habermas, and Volker Braun. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Eunice Lipton
"On January 10, 1993, The New York Times Magazine ran an article announcing the fall from grace of several East German writers, Christa Wolf among them....her book Patterns of Childhood was frequently recommend to me as an extraordinary analysis of how a little girl under the Third Reich became an anti-Semite and a Nazi...Parting From Phantoms is a collection of essays and letters organized around the momentous, catastrophic events in Wolf's life triggered when she made her Stasi Files public....[She] as a writer is deeply suspicious of memory [and] ...was and is first of all a writer whose subject is morality, individual and social She demands consciousness of herself and others. With consciousness comes responsibility....I can't find it in my heart to condemn her....Wolf's life, even her dreadful dilemma, provokes envy in me...eveny toward a life so extremelyl, used to effect things. We in theUS don't have that opportunity....We are a puritan, xenophobic peple who will always hew to the middle of the road so that we cna live our own dear lives to their natural ends." -- The Women's Review of Books
Todd Gitlin
Christa Wolf was arguable the msot influentila writer of a nation that no longer exists. . . .Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish. -- The Nation
Rob Spillman
[C]hrista Wolf is perhaps the best-known writer and intellectual of the former East Germany. Her personal, haunting novels -- including The Quest for Christa T (1968) and Accident (1989) -- offered unveiled criticism of communist Germany. Inside the GDR, she championed intellectual freedom and was very visible in the protests that led to the collapse of the state in November 1989. Afterwards, the unapologetic leftist denounced the West's "Anschluss" disguised as unification and was especially critical of paternalistic putdowns of Eastern intellectuals. In 1990, after Wolf published a novella about being watched by the infamous, omnipresent Stasi, the former symbol of East German resistance was crucified for publishing the work only after it was safe. She was then slapped with the dreaded "collaborator" tag after her own Stasi files were leaked to the press; among more than 40 volumes of "victim files" about Wolf, there were also records of her having been willingly interviewed by the Stasi between 1959 and 1962.

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

Kirkus Reviews
In her first nonfiction collection since German unification, East Germany's most prominent novelist wrestles eloquently with the ghosts of the past: her own, her country's.

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226905037
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
11/28/1998
Edition description:
1
Pages:
323
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

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