It might seem, at first appearance, a little daunting, this six hundred and eighteen page book that promises to recount in exacting detail One Day a Year for forty years, those between 1960 and 2000. Daunting, unless, of course, you are acquainted with the writing of Christa Wolf, for this will hardly be your first Wolf. If you’ve been fortunate enough to read her Cassandra, Medea, or the first-rate City of Angels, you’ll already be looking forward to immersing yourself into this autobiography of sorts, of a writer of such high cultural seriousness as Wolf.
Aside from the fascination of following Wolf’s reluctant self-revelation over such an extended time, her book also provides the sublime backdrop of history as Wolf becomes ever more disillusioned with the communism of the German Democratic Republic, whilst retaining an unshakeable faith in the economic–if not humane–ideals of Marxian socialism.
Juxtaposed with the historical context, Wolf writes of her meals with husband ‘Gerd’ Wolf, the books she is reading, her literary friends and influences–Anna Seghers, Nelly Sachs, Günter Grass, Max Frisch and especially Heinrich Böll–and the unfolding lives–birthdays, marriages, divorces–of her daughters. Beneath the macro and micro history lies Wolf’s agonising struggle to escape the boundaries of her recurring depression, realising early the important metaphysical necessity of writing.
It is impossible to read One Day a Year without bringing to mind another writer’s veiled autobiographical works, that of her near-namesake Virginia Woolf. For both writers, writing was a therapeutic act, a way of transposing trauma into literature. Both found it difficult to write about their inner selves. As Woolf wrote so poignantly in The Waves, “But how to describe the world seen without a self? There are no words.”
I’d been resisting the enticements of your Christa Wolf adulation pretty well, but this post got to me. Now I’ll have to read her…
I’m pleased to read that, Robert. I look forward to seeing what you make of Wolf’s writing.
Ah, one I haven’t read, will have to seek it out…
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I was going to suggest Wolf might have been inspired by Lessing’s Golden Notebook, where one of the main characters (can’t remember if it’s Anna or Molly) decides to keep a true record of a single day, no matter what happens), but then I remembered Lessing’s novel is from 1962.
Anyway, you’ve really got me intrigued by Wolf!
Wolf was asked to contribute to a day in a life piece in 1960, and thought the experience so valuable as an act of freezing time that she continued for more than forty more years. I think such a project is unique. In its thoroughness, it is more than a diary. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
the europa edition seems to have disappeared, weirdly, can’t find a copy anywhere – so I bought the German. The domestic scenes are easy to read, the meetings with workers and film directors less so; concept and content fascinating. Will see how I progress
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