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The Quest for Christa T. Paperback – November 1, 1979
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“On the surface we have merely the story of a sensitive woman as recalled by her friend. On this level Christa T. was a good citizen who did as she was told and lived a seemingly unexceptional life. But between the lines lies the real story of Christa T. -- the story of an individual crushed by the presures of uniformity. If you bear in mind it is the first novel of any consequence to emerge from Ulbricht's East Germany, then it becomes something of a literary landmark.” ―John Barkman, New York Post
“The contours of silence and the outline of things articulately left unsaid loom large in the muted brilliance of this novel.” ―Ernst Pawek, The New York Review of Books
“It is a courageous boot that breaks taboos and, as we have come to expect from Christa Wolf, it is infused with an integrity and a deep moral concern. . . ” ―The (London) Times Literary Supplement
Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Quest for Christa T." is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It is a story of the life and death of an introspective young woman growing up in Nazi Germany, dying at age 31 in Communist East Germany.
"Nachdenken Uber Christa T." was banned in East Germany in 1968, a year in which the Western world was exuberantly practing its freedom of speech and right to protest. It easy for Westerners, accustomed to wallowing in and abusing our own freedom of speech, to miss the significance of the civil courage, the daring and the bravery involved in writing and publishing a first-hand account of life in a repressive society.
Why ban this book?
It spoke truth to power.
"... [Christa T.] had lost the capacity to live in a state of rapture. The vehement overplayed words, the waving banners, the deafening songs, the hands clapping rhythms over our heads. She felt how words begin to change when they aren't being tossed out any more by belief and ineptitude and excessive zeal but by calculation, craftiness, the urge to adapt and conform. Our words, not even false ones--how easy it would be if they were!--but the person speaking them has become a different person. Does that change everything?" [pg 56]
Why write this book?
Growing up in the Nazi Regime, life seemed normal to a child who had known no other way of existence.
"Useless to pretend it's for [Christa's] sake. Once and for all, she doesn't need us. So we should be certain of one thing: that it's for our sake. Because it seems we need her." [pg 5]
"There are scars which only give pain when one has to go on growing. Should one keep quiet because one's afraid of the pain?"
Why read this book?
"Quest for Christa T." is poignant, historically-accurate, and a compelling read.
For Christa Wolf's own thoughts on this book visit Signandsight.com -Let's Talk European. In this 2005 interview Wolf said: "The sentence "When, if not now" is the compressed expression of the knowledge that every day is precious. It colours the entire book, which I wrote after the death of my close friend."
For a website of related interest see: opendemocracy.net
See also "Patterns of Childhood" by Christa Wolf which has some of the same characters, including Christa's creepy classmate, Horst Binder.
What is it all about? In general terms, the novel is a coming of age story, painting a detailed portrait of a young woman, Christa T., as compiled from letters, diaries and other papers by a lifelong friend of the same age group. The group of friends at the centre of the book were born in the last years of the Nazi regime and grew up in the first decades of new East German State. Christa T. stood out among the group not only for her beauty and intelligence but, even more importantly, for her independent spirit. We know early on that she dies in her mid-thirties from leukemia, leaving husband and three children behind... and massive amounts of notes and other materials that her unnamed friend tries to bring together into a kind of cohesive story. The narrative, however, does not follow any chronological order, the voices switch from the narrator to Christa T. who herself is telling part of her story that is then re-told by the narrator. I have to admit that, reading it in German was at times a challenge, requiring patience and total concentration even by a parent-tongue German.
The most interesting aspect of the novel, given its time of writing, was for me the more philosophical and political undercurrent of Wolf's story. Through Christa T. herself and the narrator, Wolf touches on or even delves into pertinent questions of identity and individualism in the face of the required "Anpassung" (adaptation), imposed by the school and the political system in general of East Germany in the nineteen sixties. How can one maintain a sense of freedom while benefiting from the opportunities offered by the State for those who are actively participating in the society? In that sense, Wolf not only created a portrait of one individual but one of a whole generation. A generation that tried, while adapting as much as necessary, fought for its one space of independence and individuality.
In a sense, Christa is questing for the infinite, for release from the constraints of physical existence. She lives in the margins, and writes poetry to clear her mind. Christa wants to form herself without historical or existential pressures limiting her. In writing this novel, Christa Wolf is illuminating both a personal struggle for identity and the manner in which we judge those who are "different" or keep to themselves. Christa does not rebel against society in the traditional sense. She tries to have the best and most varied existence that she can, given the limitations of society.
This novel is well worth your time. It will break your heart and change the way you look at the world. An overlooked masterpiece.