NOVEMBER by Rolf Schneider
Kirkus Star


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We know more about the finished fruits of Eastern European literature than about its process, more about who has been kicked out than why (and who is left). East German Schneider's first novel is especially welcome then--since it allows a finely detailed (if over-symbol-ed and therefore somewhat ambiguous) look at what happens to a writer's conscience both before and after it reaches its flash point. Natasha Roth is a well-respected East Berlin writer. Her books are published in both East and West Germany; she travels easily between zones, as well as to Paris and New York; she's currently a little blocked, toying with the idea of a biography of Rimbaud. She has a husband who's an art historian, and two children, Stefan and Sibylle. But two major events occur during the span of one November that will change all this forever. Stefan is struck by a lorry on the way to school and injured to the point of hemiplegia at first, followed by a slow recovery but a permanent limp, an uneven step. And a not very good local poet publishes an inflammatory book that leads to his expulsion to the Federal Republic across the border. Natasha Roth, along with a half dozen other writers, makes a statement of protest. One by one, under strong state pressure, the other writers recant, leaving Natasha all but alone in her support of a poet she doesn't particularly care for. Meanwhile her marriage is crumbling; everywhere she looks, life exists halved, in less than full measure: the modern German metaphor, succinctly. Apparently based on the Wolf Biermann episode of a few years back (with Natasha seeming plainly modeled on Christa Wolf), the book's air of no-victory-no-matter-what is chilling. Son Stefan's adolescent registration of his mother's situation, and his own, may be a little too blague-ish (a gloom-cloud no serious modern German novel can seem to do without); and Natasha's final self-exile (Stefan stays) is unclear. But Schneider's story is notable mostly for its sense of palpable dilemma--and this work, dour but fortified, is an important arrival.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf