FIVE DAYS IN JUNE by Stefan Heym


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In the Encyclopedia Britannica, those five days in June in East Berlin get only a single sentence: ""When the norms of production required from workers Were raised, a wave of strikes led to a great popular rising on July 17, 1953."" In Heym's sober, cautious novelization, there's far more detail and far more gray shading: the viewpoint is that of a loyal but questioning East German citizen, a citizen dedicated to the ""revolutionary principle""--a citizen like Heym's hero, union secretary Witte, who struggles to avert strikes and demonstrations at his plant by persuading party officials to understand the irrationality of the overdemanding norms, to practice the true revolutionary's ""self-criticism."" While Witte plays didactic peacemaker, Heym focuses in, with some scorn, on an apolitical worker who's reluctantly thrust into the limelight of leadership--and on the various specious species of agents provocateurs, anti-Communist outside agitators. Any of the glory in the uprising (it's celebrated annually in the West) is entirely washed out here; it's seen as an avoidable lapse that better Communists would have prevented. But there's enough free play of ideas to explain why Heym continues to be seen as something of a dissident at home in East Germany and why this book is banned there. A curious, non-pompous political document--a believer haft-ironically immersed in the act of historical serf-criticism. But, from the gifted, mercurial author of Hostages and The King David Report, this is a disappointment: characters come to life only fitfully, their personal lives retreating respectfully to make way for the muted dialectic; spurts of inventive language and quirks of personality seem out of place among the carefully posed confrontations. Life under the censors may not have stopped up Heym's inquiring mind, but it seems, for the moment, to have dulled his imagination and stilled his passion.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1978
Publisher: Prometheus