"PARTING FROM PHANTOMS: Selected Writings, 1990-1994" by Christa Wolf

"PARTING FROM PHANTOMS: Selected Writings, 1990-1994"

Email this review


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 G°nter 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.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 303pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago