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Monday, October 31, 2016

Patterns of Childhood (1975) by Christa Wolf

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East German author represents both female German writers and East German writers on the 1001 Books list.
Book Review
Patterns of Childhood (1975)
by Christa Wolf

  I believe Christa Wolf fills the slot for "German language author active in the 1970's" within the 1001 Books list.  Patterns of Childhood is her bildungsroman about life in Hitler's Germany, first in the Polish area of Eastern Germany, later as a refugee in the West.   Wolf folds multiple narrative devices to enrich the depth of analysis a pre-teen/teen girl can bring to Hitler's Germany.   First, she uses a trip back to her now Polish childhood home as framing device, allowing her to describe the meat of the childhood narrative using an unusual 2nd person narrative for those flashbacks.

Second, she incorporates facts from her adult researching life under the Third Reich to establish specific propositions and dates within the childhood narrative.   Finally, she includes musings about the structure of the narrative by her, the author of the book.   The child/narrator does not have the same name as the author, and the narrator voice never specifically says "I am Christa Wolf" or gives any specific information about her adult life.

Here, all these techniques enliven the narrative and provide depth to the reading experience.   Which is good, because at 420 pages of translated German, Patterns of Childhood does not exactly jump off the shelf as a "fun read."  Wolf's childhood experience was roughly the same as that as Gunter Grass, from a different area of Polish Germany, although there is little in Patterns of Childhood that would mark her as a specifically East German author.

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