A citizen of East Germany and a committed socialist, Wolf managed to keep a critical distance from the communist regime. Her best-known novels included “Der Geteilte Himmel” (Divided Heaven, 1963), addressing the divisions of Germany, and “Kassandra” (Cassandra, 1983), which depicted the Trojan War.
She won awards in East, West and reunited Germany for her work, including the Thomas Mann Prize in 2010. The jury praised her life’s work for “critically questioning the hopes and errors of her time, and portraying them with deep moral seriousness and narrative power.”
Born in 1929 in a part of Germany that is now in Poland, she moved to East Germany in 1945 and joined the Socialist Unity Party in 1949. She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig, and became a publisher and editor.
“Der Geteilte Himmel,” her first success, was published in 1963 and described a couple torn apart by the division of Germany. The book drew notice in West Germany.
She took part in an open protest against the exile the East German regime forced on the singer Wolf Biermann in 1976 and campaigned for reform in East Germany. Her privileged status there allowed her to travel extensively in the west after 1978.
Wolf was, though, an opponent of German reunification, and remained a member of Erich Honecker’s Socialist Unity Party until 1989. She delivered a speech to demonstrators at Alexanderplatz in November that year, days before the Berlin Wall fell. She welcomed the calls for democracy, yet made clear she did not support German unification or capitalism.
Her 1990 short story, “Was Bleibt” (What Remains), provoked a two-year battle over the merit of East German literature, fought out in the arts pages and chat shows of Germany’s newspapers and television channels.
In her story, Wolf described a female East German author under close surveillance from the Stasi. She was criticized for waiting until the end of the East German regime to publish it and accused of hypocrisy in her tolerance of that regime.
In 1993, Wolf announced that she had worked as an informal collaborator for the Stasi between 1959 and 1962 and published her own files for that period.
Her latest book, “City of Angels or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud” published in 2010, was a semi-autobiographical account of a visit to Los Angeles Wolf made in the early 1990s.
The novel recounts how the narrator deals with the discovery of her Stasi file, first inspected a few months earlier, and the media storm that it unleashed.
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.