German author Christa Wolf has died
Wolf is best known for her novel "Cassandra," published in translation in the U.S. in 1984. The book is a retelling of the Trojan War, and is known for its feminist themes. Her last book was 2010's “City of Angels or the Overcoat of Dr. Freud,” a semi-autobiographical account of a visit Wolf made to Los Angeles in the 1990s; it has not yet been published in English.
Born in 1929 in a part of Germany that is now Poland, the Wolf moved to East Germany in 1945. Wolfe was an outspoken cultural observer, a member of the Socialist party who was both supporter and critic. Her role was multilayered and complex: she wrote critically of the Stasi's police surveillance while later admitting that she herself had been an informal informant. Bloomberg reports:
She took part in an open protest against the exile the East German regime forced on the singer Wolf Biermann in 1976 and campaigned for reform in East Germany. Her privileged status there allowed her to travel extensively in the west after 1978.
Wolf was, though, an opponent of German reunification, and remained a member of Erich Honecker’s Socialist Unity Party until 1989. She delivered a speech to demonstrators at Alexanderplatz in November that year, days before the Berlin Wall fell. She welcomed the calls for democracy, yet made clear she did not support German unification or capitalism.
Her 1990 short story, “Was Bleibt” ("What Remains"), provoked a two-year battle over the merit of East German literature, fought out in the arts pages and chat shows of Germany’s newspapers and television channels.
In her story, Wolf described a female East German author under close surveillance from the Stasi. She was criticized for waiting until the end of the East German regime to publish it and accused of hypocrisy in her tolerance of that regime.
In 1993, Wolf announced that she had worked as an informal collaborator for the Stasi between 1959 and 1962 and published her own files for that period.
Calling Wolf "an enormously significant figure," Georgina Paul, an expert in East German literature at Oxford University, told Reuters that the author was "regarded up until 1990 as someone who carefully and delicately expanded the boundaries of what could be said in East Germany."
Wolf was awarded the Thomas Mann prize in 2010 for writing about "the struggles, hopes and mistakes of her age," with "deep moral earnestness and narrative power."
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Christa Wolf in 2010. Credit: Rainer Jensen / European Pressphoto Agency