Requiem for Christa Wolf

Armando Chaguaceda

Christa Wolf

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 30 — I’ve been trying to end the year alternating between inevitable walks through the narrow streets of my city and reading a good book.

In the latter case, the candidate I selected is From Germany to Germany, a book by Gunther Grass — the author of the classic The Tin Drum — published in 2011.

Grass, along with Heiner Muller and Christa Wolf, was a part a select group of German contemporary writers whose works captured my attention for a long time. Their artistic and political paths — united around the common defense of Germany’s cultural diversity, social causes, pacifism and commitment to a democratic left — I followed with stubborn loyalty.

For these reasons I was struck by the news of the death of Christa, which occurred this past December 1 in Berlin at the age of 82.

Born into a middle class family, Christa Wolf attained fame with her debut novel Divided Heaven (1962) addressing the problems of a divided Germany. The play won the Heinrich Mann Award, which would be accompanied in 1980 by the Georg Buchner Prize, the most important literary award in the German language.

A Nobel candidate, Christa Wolf was a controversial figure for her defense of the plural legacy of the German Democratic Republic, and because in her youth she had been an informer for the Stasi (East German State Security), whose methods of espionage and pressure on people became known (and repudiated) worldwide based on films like The Lives of Others.

Although it’s known that the Stasi quickly lost interest in Christa (who deliberately provided them irrelevant information) and she was subjected to close personal surveillance for nearly 30 years, the burden of that dark nexus hounded her for the last two decades of her life.

That brief relation was addressed in her novel What Remains (written in 1979 but published eleven years later), generating an existential crisis that accompanied her for most of her life, and which was exploited — with manifest opportunistic bias and a lynch-mob fervor — by some of the West German media.

The virulence of the attacks led authors such as Muller and Grass himself, both of whom were critics of the communist regime that had censored some of their works, to express their solidarity with the author, which is dealt with in the book I’m currently reading.

An honest member of the governing Unified Socialist Party of the GDR, Christa remained a vocal critic of authoritarianism and censorship by the regime, maintaining her identification with the ideals of the socialism that she never abandoned.

She was the speaker on that memorable November afternoon when a half million Berliners concentrated in the Alexanderplatz public square to demand a non-violent end to the Honecker dictatorship.

Her last novel, published last year, was City of Angels or the Overcoat of Dr. Freud, which dealt with the history of German intellectuals exiled in the United States during Nazi rule, whose harsh regime she knew as a child.

Today, when her work constitutes part of humanity’s heritage, and her life was an example of the tears and hopes that the last century brought to the nation, our memory and to the German people, we can only say: “Rest in peace, Christa Wolf.”

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

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One thought on “Requiem for Christa Wolf

  • Thank you Armando for remembering Christa Wolf. Perhaps the only point where I might disagree is your description of her as a pacifist as opposed to having been someone who wants to banish wars where possible. But let’s not split hairs.
    I still remember when I first discovered her rewriting of the Kassandra legend. She was possibly the gereatest author to have come from the German Democratic Republic although there were others like Stefan Heym, whom I once saw at a reading from one of his books, but also those who had been repelled by their experience of state socialism like Uwe Johnson. I am deliberately excluding from this comparison those who had a career before the Second World War such as Anna Seghers (her of The Seventh Cross made into a film with Gene Kelly and Spencer Tracy), Heinrich Mann and Arnold Zweig . Her treatment after unification was scandalous and a result of Western self-righteousness. To me she represented what socialism in the GDR could have been had it ever had a chance. In reality it never had a chance though.

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