Von einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt an, der nachträglich nicht mehr zu benennen ist, beginnt man, sich selbst historisch zu sehen; was heißt: eingebettet in, gebunden an seine Zeit ….
From a certain point on, a point which one can no longer identify, one begins to see oneself as historical; by which I mean embedded in, bound to one's time …
- Christa Wolf, Ein Tag im Jahr
Born in 1929 in Landsberg an der Warthe, Germany (now Gorzow Wielkpolsky, Poland), Christa Wolf was part of that generation whose most formative years were shaped by the Second World War. Christa's parents ran a grocery store until the end of the war, when at only 16 years old, Christa, her family were forced to leave their home to cross the newly created border into Mecklenberg. Thus, Wolf's education and early career all began in East Germany under the regime of the GDR. In Mecklenberg, she did secretarial work for the town mayor, during high school and went on to study literature in Leipzig. After graduation, Christa worked for the Deutscher Schriftstelleverband (German Writers' Union) and as an editor at a publishing house Neues Leben. She married a fellow writer, Gerhard Wolf in 1951. They had two daughters before Christa's first real breakthrough as a writer took place with the publication of Der getelte Himmel (1961) and in 1962 they moved to Kleinmachnow near Berlin, where Christa could write full-time.
Der geteilte Himmel (The Divided Heaven) is the star-crossed love story of a student and a chemist divided by the postwar division of their country. The book won the Heinrich-Mann-Prize, was adapted to film in 1962, bringing Christa recognition in East and West Germany alike. Since this time Christa's writing remains linked to the separation, reunification, and political upheavals within Germany during Christa's life – and always somewhat autobiographical. Her second novel, Nachdenken über Christa T. (1968), was, at first, banned in the GDR and became the focus of hot critical debates, leading to a new emphasis in GDR-literature, a subjective realism that drew attention to the authorial voice.
One of the themes in Nachdenken über Christa T. (The Quest for Christa T.) is the role of the artist in society and the character of Christa T. becomes a stand-in for the author. Kindheitsmuster (1976) turns to the history of Christa's generation, life in the Third Reich, asking how the past has shaped their present lives. The novel's beginning quotes Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun: "The past is never dead. It's not even past," and it questions the plausibility of ever making a fresh start.
Christa's life has always been tormented by the past. Her deviations from the party line of the GDR regime brought her to the attention of the Stasi and she was under constant surveillance by the early 1970s. Was bliebt (1990) reflected on those years of her life. She'd written it during the late 1970s, but did not feel able to publish this work until after reunification. Even in the 1990s, Was Bleibt (What Remains) brought biting attacks, especially from West German critics. Some saw her as hypocritical, especially after it was revealed in 1993 that she had been recruited by the Stasi between 1959-1961, even though she gave them no “significant information.” Still others felt it was a sign of her duplicitousness that she waited until “it did not matter” to publish such an important piece of literature.
Christa has won numerous national and international literary awards throughout her career. Her subsequent works include Medea (1996), On the Way to Taboo (1994) and Leibhaftig (2003), which explore the controversial central themes of her earlier work even further. Despite what her critics say about her, Christa was openly critical of the leadership of East Germany that is why she was under surveillance for so many years. She felt a strong loyalty to the socialism of Karl Marx and, like many other German academics, opposed German reunification.
Short biography of Christa Wolf
Fact Monster's guide to postwar literature in Germany