Christa Wolf was arguably the best-known and most influential writer in the former East Germany. Growing up during the Nazi regime, she was forced to flee her home with her family, nearly starving to death in the process. Her earliest novels were controversial because they contained veiled criticisms of the Communist regime that landed her on government watch lists. Her past continued to permeate her work and her life; as she said, "You can only fight sorrow when you look it in the eye." August is Christa Wolf's last piece of fiction, written in a single sitting as an anniversary gift to her husband. In it, she revisits her stay at a tuberculosis hospital in the winter of 1946, a real-life event that was the inspiration for the closing scenes of her 1976 novel Patterns of Childhood. This time, however, her fictional perspective is very different. The story unfolds through the eyes of August, a young patient who has lost both his parents to the war. He adores an older girl, Lilo, a rebellious teenager who controls the wards. Sixty years later, August reflects on his life and the things that she taught him.
Written in taut but affectionate prose, August offers a new entry into Christa Wolf's work and, incidentally, presents her only male protagonist. More than a literary artifact, this new novel is a perfectly constructed story of a quiet life well lived. For both August and Christa Wolf, the past never dies.
Christa Wolf's (1929-2011) other works include Cassandra, Patterns of Childhood, and The Quest for Christa T. Katy Derbyshire is a London-born translator who has lived in Berlin for many years. Her translations of Inka Parei's Shadow-Boxing Woman and What Darkness Was, and Dorothee Elmiger's Invitation to the Bold of Heart are also published by Seagull Books.