Category: German Democratic Republic

Wolfgang Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei (Old Rendering Plant)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei. This is a short novel, set in what was East Germany, in a fairly remote area. Our unnamed narrator, first as a boy and then as an adult,explores the blighted landscape not far from his home. He discovers a foul-smelling stream but also considerable evidence of former mine workings, now not only abandoned but with no maps as to where the tunnels are, so they are dangerous as they are liable to subsidence. As an adult, he discovers an active rendering palnt and sees animals – dead, alive and half alive – dragged to the plant. The whole sight disgusts and horrifies him but, later, when considering a job, he thinks of working there, despite the fact that the workers are very much looked down upon and smell the whole time. However, the mine tunnels are liable to subsidence… This is a first-class novel, superbly invoking the blighted landscape of East Germany.

Siegfried Lenz: Der Überläufer (The Turncoat)

The latest addition to my website is Siegfried Lenz‘s Der Überläufer (The Turncoat). This novel was originally written in 1951, Lenz’s second novel. However, it was not published then, partially for political reasons, and forgotten, only for the manuscript to be found in his papers after his death in 2014. It was published to great acclaim in Germany in 2016, It tells the story of Walter Proska. We first meet him as a German soldier, returning to the front near Kiev from leave. His train is blown up but he escapes and then joins a German troop guarding the railway, not very successfully. The troop is eventually captured and, at the instigation of his of his comrades, Walter joins the partisans and is with them as they come to his home town just across the former German-Polish border. After the war, he works for the Soviet-controlled Germany, the future East Germany. However, he learns that he is about to be arrested. Lenz tells an excellent story, particularly the first part with the troop with it s colourful members and nasty corporal.

Francis Nenik: Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century)

The latest addition to my website is Francis Nenik‘s Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century). The book is a narrative non-fiction. It is the biography of a forgotten German writer, Hasso Grabner (link in German) who had something of a colourful life. He never knew his father, became a Communist early in his life, opposed the Nazis in the 1930s but ended up in Buchenwald and then as part of a punishment battalion in Greece, where he tried to sabotage the German war effort. After the war, he was in East Germany, working to build socialism but, because he was less than ideologically pure but very efficient, he was at one minute an ordinary worker and the next head of a major industrial combine. Eventually, he became a writer but, even then, clashed with the authorities. Nenik tells the story at a furious pace but makes plenty of comments and writes Grabner’s story as a novel not as a formal biography , which makes it highly readable and enjoyable. This is a book from new imprint V&Q Books, , headed by Katy Derbyshire, translator of this and many other fine German works.

Uwe Tellkamp: Der Turm (The Tower)

The latest addition to my website is Uwe Tellkamp‘s Der Turm (The Tower). This is a monumental novel – around a thousand pages long – which follows the lives of an extended, middle class family in the German Democratic Republic, ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tellkamp’s aim is clear – to utterly condemn the GDR and its ways. The various family members, none of whom is a saint, have their own family and personal problems but, above all, they face innumerable problems by virtue of the fact that they live in the GDR. These problems include shortages, being spied on, extensive censorship, getting into trouble for even the mildest criticism of the system, housing problems, massive corruption, frequent power outages and many more. Tellkamp illustrates all of these problems and many more through his characters, as they struggle to cope and to survive. We follow three main characters – Richard, an outspoken surgeon, his son, Christian, far less outspoken than his father but who nevertheless gets into trouble for it, and Meno, Richard’s brother-in-law, a publisher’s editor who faces daily censorship. Tellkamp very much makes his point but it is a lot of reading on a subject that is soon likely to fade from memory.

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