The thing about reading a diary (and Christa Wolf's One Day a Year: 1960-2000 is a diary of sorts) is that so often the life of the writer is very ordinary. Christa Wolf wanted to show "how life happens" over the course of years and in this case decades. In her case, though, she happened to be a writer and a famous one, so I think her life falls more into the 'extraordinary' category. She lived through some interesting times and seemed to be omnipresent in the literary scene in not only East Germany but to some extent Europe as well.
Mixed in with the daily activities of an ordinary life, there are also references to what she's writing, what she's reading, who she's talking to, places she goes, films she watches--a different kind of minutiae than that of the purely domestic side of life . . . It's all very interesting in a mundane (and sometimes not so mundane) sort of way. Although she does touch on the domestic side of life, hers was also filled with writing, publishing her work and being part of the literary milieu. Reading One Day a Year sometimes feels as though I am getting a view into a literary 'who's who' of post-WII (and thereafter) Germany. I only wish I was more familiar with the people she talks about.
This week, rather than summarize what I've been reading (which is too hard to do in any case--so many bits and pieces), I thought I might let Christa Wolf speak for herself. I'm still behind the "Curtain" so to speak and am looking forward to seeing how her life changes when the Wall falls. There are still lots of references to Tinka's birthday, but Annette is now married and living with her husband. Wolf mostly talks about her work as a writer, the literary side of Berlin, but also the sorts of things everyone does every day. A little randomness in an ordinary life:
1969: "Recently, at the boring Potsdam literary ball, a young woman journalist from the Liberal Democratic Party said to me: We Really don't want to have everything poured into skulls. We do want to think for ourselves . . ."
1972: "The sheet of paper for the first page of Patterns of Childhood is still in the typewriter from yesterday, but I do have to start over again. I write a good page and a half that I intend to let stand for now without knowing whether that will help me at all. For I cannot work for weeks on every page of the manuscript as I have done with this beginning. I am temporarily in a better mood because I seem to succeed in putting together a few sentences that were, for the most part, completed previously, but with regard to the whole I am and remain disconsolate and hopeless."
1973: "We drove to the Ermeler Haus restaurant, refined quiet, coolness, draft; until nearly closing time we are the only guests in our little nook. All of the waiters in tails. We are served by a young one with a child's face and a child's curls. We order veal steak au four, Gerd an exotic duck dish. (During the hour and a half we begin to freeze.) At the end little pancakes filled with pineapple, which are baked and filled at the table. All of it (a cognac, a vodka, and a juice in addition) for ninety marks in the end."
"Table conversation: exchange of information about Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov (we agree that Sakharov, though his appeal to the Chilean junta with respect to Neruda, hurt himself and proved to be politically naive.)"
1974: "Listening to the news in the morning is a kind of addiction."
"So I am writing in my diary, and I do not mean this report. The mail. Nothing special. Newspapers. As always, I leaf through them in ten minutes. In Die Junge Welt is says that I recited the Neruda poem 'Insomnia' at the Neruda tribute in the Congress Hall ('In the middle of the night I ask myself: What will happen in Chile? What will happen to my poor, poor, dark country?') with personal perplexity. I am perplexed!"
"In the evening I read more in the diary of Anais Nin, slept from eleven on, but woke up at five because of my inner disquiet. Continued to read. Also found comments about the fact that a woman who is creative is plagued more severely by feelings of guilt than a man: because she takes something away from the man, to which, according to her innermost belief, he is entitled (and from the children: how well I know that feeling!). And because she feels more guilt with respect to the people that she describes in this or that form. Apparently it is more difficult for women to 'invent' their figures than it is for men--Now that very thing, of course, is my--one of my--problems at the moment."
1975: "And again and again: Jana [C.W.'s granddaughter]. How should we protect her so she does not suffer too much because of her parents' divorce. How to relieve Annette, who is now too heavily burdened: living alone with a child and her profession. How to help her find joy in her life again. Now that we have spent a night there, her apartment, which was so difficult to obtain, seems unreasonable to me. At night you begin to sweat, you cannot open the windows because of the street and construction noise. Jana screamed every hour or two. These tracts of new buildings are anti-human, not built for people with their different needs, but for well-functioning worker bees. And they are worker bees--I ask myself if I am perhaps developing into a mother who exaggerates things in her worry about her children and her children's children . . ."
"My thoughts continue to flow during the quiet breakfast and reading the newspaper. 'Magnificent Beginning for the Nineteenth Berlin Festival' 'Five Franco Opponents are to be Executed Today' 'Gathering of the Berlin Combat Group Commanders' 'Antifascist Resistance Against Franco Regime Increases' 'Immediate Freedom for Luis Corvalan' 'Meetings with the Builders of the Western Section of the Baikal-Amur Railway'."
For a student of social sciences or someone studying Christa Wolf in depth this book is a veritable treasure trove of information. For the bits about life in the GDR (as opposed to the West) the reader needs to dig a bit, or read between the lines, as she doesn't necessarily write about things explicitly. Some familiarity of life at that time behind the Iron Curtain wouldn't really be amiss.
Although I am still finding the reading fascinating, the book is not exactly as I was expecting it to be. Christa Wolf does write about an ordinary life, but a very particular kind of life. I wouldn't have minded reading about a 'truly ordinary' woman's life in the GDR to be honest. Though there are glimpses of the world as it was This is turning out to be an interesting reading experience--even if it is one that hasn't quite met my expectations. I do think I need to read some of Wolf's fiction alongside this, however. Somehow I think it would round out the reading experience. So one road leads to another, I hope.
By the way--if I keep reading at the pace I am going (which isn't really all that fast), I can still finish the book by the end of the month as long as I read (roughly) two yearly entries every day. Can it be true--me finishing a long book this year? I am going to remain optimistic.