The German novelist Wolf’s final book opens with a disclaimer stating that none of the characters or situations in the book are true. But because the book is based on a real turn in Wolf’s life—the discovery in 1992 that she once collaborated with East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi—the truth isn’t quite that straightforward. In fact, very little in this fascinating book is.
Wolf’s actual collaboration took place in the early ’60s; by most accounts she provided little information and opposed the regime for the rest of her life. More relevant is the fact that Wolf had lost all memory of the incident and was as shocked by the revelation as the German public was. Originally published in Germany before her death in late 2011, this is an autobiographical novel with a hypnotically blurred sense of reality, documenting the author’s stay in Los Angeles when the scandal broke. Even before the truth is revealed, the narrator lives as a refugee: Chance encounters and dinner-party conversation point out the distance between the author and her surroundings, as does one scene that finds her reading Thomas Mann’s diaries while Star Trek blares from the television. The unreliability of memory becomes a theme as the author’s narrative blurs with that of “L,” an older immigrant whose story she is researching.
The final sequence, a journey through a Native American dreamscape, finds the narrator facing the end of her life and making peace with uncertainty. The book’s poetry should appeal to an American audience even if the political context sometimes gets lost in translation.