Patterns of Childhood

Patterns of Childhood

This novel is a testament of what seemed at the time a fairly ordinary childhood, in the bosom of a normal Nazi family in Landsberg.Returning to her native town in East Germany forty years later, accompanied by her inquisitive and sometimes demanding daughter, Wolf attempts to recapture her past and to clarify memories of growing up in Nazi Germany

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Waking up from that dream at 16, and realising there are multiple truths in the world, and that the one she has been trained to worship has caused the complete destruction of her own society and immeasurable evil and suffering for millions of innocent people, the narrator loses herself. If you believe in the superiority of your own country, race, ideology and biology, if you know nothing outside the narrow path of obedience, if you learn to read and write using the party line as a framework, if you study biology with the ideas of racial distinctions, if you participate in sports events to steel your body and mind to honour the deified person who dominates news and dictates thought patterns, how will your personality be shaped? As opposed to the parent generation, who knew an alternative to Hitlers Third Reich, the protagonist Nelly grows up with no comparison until her world falls apart, drastically, suddenly, in her teenage years. Nelly is a writer, and in 1974, with the backdrop of the Vietnam war and her guilt regarding the suffering that never ends in the world, she sets out to make an account of her childhood years in a part of Germany that later became part of Poland. A couple of years earlier, in 1971, she had taken her husband, her brother and her teenage daughter on a trip to revisit the town she left as a refugee in 1945, and her tale moves between the different times and places, reflecting on the child Nelly, who is she in the account, and the older visitor travelling down memory lane, reconstructing the past, who is addressed as you, and her current writing self, hardly present, but an implied I. After years of hoping for the return of the father, Nellys family finally welcomes a stranger. And it means never ever allowing oneself to mourn the loss of childhood patterns which turn into symbols of the evil regime she believed in wholeheartedly, but which the older self, the historically educated narrator, abhors and fears. I do know that the Third Reich has left patterns in the childhoods of many generations long after the war itself was over. I carry the patterns of the childhoods of German children growing up under that evil flag, and I wont let my children come near any institution that teaches exclusive rights to a special group of people. Dont ever believe it cant happen to you, because after the Second World War, we know that human beings are capable of anything if they are trained and brainwashed in a specific way.

So when government becomes insane, it is only by the cessation of routine daily politics that its insanity can be controlled. Wolf suggests the signal for reconsidering the continuation of daily politics in the face of governmental insanity: The feeling that overcomes any living being when the earth moves underfoot is fear. This fear may be the sign to stop being normal, particularly within the family and its political mores. A family is an agglomeration of people of different ages and sexes united to strictly conceal mutually shared embarrassing secrets.

The book physically felt like a faded memory. Coming to terms with Germany's past is something that was clearly playing in the heart and mind of Christa Wolf during the writing process of her book. Published under GDR rule Wolf's main concern is looking at the years before the Second World War, the actual war years, and the bigger picture of Nazism in Germany, how this impacted people's past, future life and the country overall. But the book is above all a memoir, an autobiographical piece, cleverly woven into the story of Nelly, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. But at the same time everything becomes connected with the present day, with the history she is living in, the history of Germany, after having started off another World War, consciously killing people en-mass and believing in an ideology that became self-destructive. The narrative swings back and forward from the years looking at Nelly's life and that of her family, to the now early seventies under GDR rule as Wolf travels bringing back the past, and it's done in way without the need for her to let the reader know. And even though the book came in at just over 400 pages long, for me it felt almost double that, because of the amount of details Wolf manages to cram in.

1. The historical background: When a person realises that the historical backdrop is the WW II and the fact that the main protagonist was a 'normal' German of 'those times', the value of the book gets established. This is the first time I read a book by a German about those times, which we today divide them into pre-war situation, the war and the post war situation. For instance: a word or a discussion or an object or a news story of the present day transports her to the past and vice versa and at times ends with sparkling reflections. That is attested to by Christa Wolf in this book too through the character of Charlotte Jordan. (The more I read books on war the more I hate it). (The more I read books on war the more I hate it). I will most probably read all of Christa Wolf's books..........

How was it for an ordinary German family to have lived during Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany? Christa Wolf and the narrator in this novel named "Nelly" were both born in Landsberg, Warthe in 1929 when it was still a part of Germany. This book was originally published in German in 1976, just about the time when Nelly starts narrating, memories of her childhood pushed forward when she, together with her daughter and older brother, revisits Landsberg (now part of Poland) and other nearby places of her young years.

Sadly, despite the interesting topic, I struggled really a lot to follow Wolf's writing style.

Viel lieber mag ich allerdings einen Roman und diese Bezeichnung prangt auch auf der dtv-Ausgabe von Christa Wolfs Werk aus dem Jahr 1976. Wolf lässt in diesem Buch ihre eigene Geschichte in eine Fiktive einfließen, in dem Anfang der 70er Jahre eine Frau mit Tochter und Bruder von der DDR für ein paar Tage nach Landsberg an der Warthe ins heutige Polen fährt, dem Ort, in dem auch Christa Wolf geboren wurde. Leider tut sie das nicht in einer Romanform, sondern der Stil machte auf mich eher den Eindruck eines Essays, einer Rede oder dem zwanglosen Plauderton an Omas Kaffeetisch, wenn von früher geredet wurde. Sicher bin ich in diesem Punkt auch etwas ungerecht der Autorin gegenüber, denn immerhin hätte sie in den 70er Jahren nie die Möglichkeit gehabt, Parallelen zwischen einem totalitären System des Faschismus und des Sozialismus zu ziehen. Auf diese Idee wäre sie ja auch gar nicht gekommen, denn Christa Wolf hat oft genug betont, dass sie die DDR geliebt hat. Ich will dies gar nicht verurteilen an dieser Stelle, doch muss das jedem Leser bewusst sein, dass die Aufarbeitung des Dritten Reichs bei ihr im Jahr 1945 endet.

Aber so mühsam ich mich durchquälte, muss ich der Autorin schon den Verdienst lassen, dass dieser unsägliche Stil nicht (ausschließlich) dazu da wäre, den Leser böse zu quälen, sondern auch eindeutig eine Botschaft vermittelt: die Zerrissenheit, die Verdrängung und die Schizophrenie dieser Generation. Wenn das ganze Werk jetzt auch noch intellektuell eitel wäre, indem es diesen Stil vermittelt, hätte ich die Autorin eh schon böse abgestraft, aber ich nehme Christa Wolf zudem ab, dass sie eben als Kind dieser Zeit so kompliziert ist und mir das authentisch präsentiert. Und das ist auch das, was sie mir von dieser Generation mitgegeben hat. Der Weg über den Dachboden des Geistes und der Imagination der Protagonistin und der Autorin war mir aber ein bisschen zu staubig.

This novel is Christa Wolf's fictionalized account of growing up in Nazi Germany. This is a story about war, history, memory, and learning from our mistakes. Those interested in history, or psychology, or who like character driven novels, will likely love this book.

It's magnificently and beautifully done; Wolf's "Nelly" is subtly infused with Nazi ideology while her narrator feels only horror for what her childish self believed.

Novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, journalist, and film dramatist Christa Wolf was a citizen of East Germany and a committed socialist, Wolf managed to keep a critical distance from the communist regime.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 4.05
  • Pages: 416
  • Publish Date: July 1st 1984 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Isbn10: 0374518440
  • Isbn13: 9780374518448