NO PLACE ON EARTH by Christa Wolf
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Similar to--but far more involving than--Gunter Grass' The Meeting at Telgte, Wolf's novella posits an imaginary colloquy between two German literary figures of the past: the great sensitive, Henrich von Kleist, shown soon after his burning of the manuscript for Robert Guiscard; and the poet Karoline von GÃœnderrode. The time is 1804. The place is a town on the Rhine. The setting is a salon party during which Kleist and GÃœnderrode first watch each other suffer in separate company, and then a river bank--as the two take a walk together, revealing to each other their tragic understanding of life's impossibility. Each portrait is vivid and poetic of itself. Tortured Kleist: ""He is not the master of the thing inside him which thinks. He must restrain himself, and he will qualify as cured when he has mastered this art. But how can a man be cured who deranges the law before he can submit to it? Abases himself to dust and submits: to the deranged, invalid law."" The critically patronized and abused GÃœnderrode: ""She will not allow herself to be humiliated. She has the remedy to prevent this, and she will not hesitate to use it. What consolation lies in the knowledge that one does not have to live."" And, together, their conversation drills through recklessness of thought, personal loves/hatreds (such as Kleist's for Goethe), and philosophy (GÃœnderrode's anguished feminism). . . before arriving at aphorism: ""From what she has observed, she says, the ambition of gifted people is intensified by inauspicious circumstances, the ambition of the untalented by their distorted self-esteem."" Historical, hypothetical, but marvelously intense: a fascinating short novel by one of Europe's most consistently haunting novelists (The Quest for Christs T., A Model Childhood).

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1982
ISBN: 0374517754
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux