I received a review copy of this title from Seagull Books. This book was originally published in German and this edition has been translated by Katy Derbyshire. This is my final contribution to German Literature Month. This has been a fantastic event with over 130 titles reviewed by bloggers.
The author, Christa Wolf, wrote this 74 page book in a single sitting as an anniversary gift to her husband. It is a beautiful, heartwarming story that shows us that even in the most extreme and unfortunate circumstances love and kindness can make everything tolerable. August and his mother were forced from their home in East Prussia at the end of World War II and as these refugees were traveling by train to escape the atrocities of war, an accident takes August’s mother. As an orphan August is placed in a hospital, which is actually a former castle turned into a hospital that treats tubercular and consumptive patients.
August is surrounded by sickness and death and sorrow but what he remembers most about his time at the hospital is an older girl named Lilo. Lilo is a teenager, so she is a bit older than August, but her warmth and kindness are something that August constantly wants to be around. Her songs and stories make him forget, at least for a little while, that he is an orphan living in a hospital. No matter how sick or close to death another patient might be, Lilo still visits and tenderly cares for many of the children at the hospital.
August is now a sixty-year-old man looking back on his life and remembering his time in the hospital after the war. It is a testament to the resilency of the human spirit that August doesn’t remember all of the death and destruction around him, but what stands out in his mind is the compassion and generosity of Lilo. August has lived a full and happy life and he is able to look back on it with a warm feeling in his heart and no regrets. August is also very thankful for the wonderful life he has shared with his wife and for his job of driving tourists back and forth from Prague to Dresden. He is a simple man and is so grateful for what might seem to many as insignificant memories.
Written in beautiful, concise prose, Wolf is the perfect example of the fact that even a very short novella can have a powerful and far reaching impact on readers.
About the Author:
A citizen of East Germany and a committed socialist, Mrs. Wolf managed to keep a critical distance from the communist regime. Her best-known novels included “Der geteilte Himmel” (“Divided Heaven,” 1963), addressing the divisions of Germany, and “Kassandra” (“Cassandra,” 1983), which depicted the Trojan War.
She won awards in East Germany and West Germany for her work, including the Thomas Mann Prize in 2010. The jury praised her life’s work for “critically questioning the hopes and errors of her time, and portraying them with deep moral seriousness and narrative power.”
Christa Ihlenfeld was born March 18, 1929, in Landsberg an der Warthe, a part of Germany that is now in Poland. She moved to East Germany in 1945 and joined the Socialist Unity Party in 1949. She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig and became a publisher and editor.
In 1951, she married Gerhard Wolf, an essayist. They had two children.