A prize-winning German journalist’s account of how he revisited his family’s socialist past to find answers about his parents' relationship to him and to each other.
The self-proclaimed “bourgeois” of his family, Berliner Zeitung editor Maxim grew up in East Berlin. His parents, Anne and Wolf, were rebels who often made him wish “they could be as normal as all the other parents I knew.” Part of what made them different was that Anne was from West Germany and Wolf, from the East. Gerhard, Anne’s father, fought with the French Resistance and then returned home after the war to build the East German state. By contrast, Werner, Wolf’s father, was a French prisoner of war who returned home a broken man who found his balm in East German socialism. Following the idealism of her father, Anne developed a desire to “put her life at the service of the [Socialist] Party” and became a journalist like Gerhard. Eventually, she abandoned her career when she could not tolerate the censorship she witnessed or the outright lies she saw published, and she retreated into university life. Yet, however disenchanted she was with the East German state, “she remain[ed] a Socialist deep down.” Wolf had a more openly critical attitude toward prevailing political ideology. An artist, he expressed his opinions through his work, nervously aware of the tightrope he walked between ideological conformity and resistance. When change finally came to East Germany in 1989, Anne was able to distance herself from the “unhappy [socialist] love of her youth” thanks to her academic training. But Wolf “missed the security he had previously found so constricting,” and the “long love and long argument” that had been his marriage to Anne finally came to end.
In this winner of the European Book Prize, Leo not only produces a moving family memoir, but also a probing exploration of the human need to believe and belong.