Public Life

Pat Rogers

  • A Model Childhood by Christa Wolf, translated by Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt
    Virago, 407 pp, £8.95, April 1982, ISBN 0 86068 253 6
  • The Safety Net by Heinrich Böll, translated by Leila Vennewitz
    Secker, 314 pp, £7.50, March 1982, ISBN 0 436 05454 X
  • The Country of her Dreams by Janice Elliott
    Hodder, 186 pp, £6.95, March 1982, ISBN 0 340 27830 7
  • The Soul’s Gymansium and Other Stories by Harold Acton
    Hamish Hamilton, 165 pp, £7.95, February 1982, ISBN 0 241 10740 7

The original title of Christa Wolf’s novel, Kindheitsmuster, could mean something like ‘a pattern of childhood’, but her translators have rightly gone for a more idiomatic expression. In turning the noun into an attributive adjective, they’ve stressed the idea of an exemplary upbringing, and that is wholly apt. The career of Nelly Jordan is normative, within a certain German (though here specifically Nazi) tradition. Furthermore, she stands for a generation, and for part of a race. Whilst there’s no suggestion that the pattern will in any way be replicated under very different political conditions, the book does present the German experience in the Hitler era as something intelligible, even logical. There is play with the notion of Verfall (‘decay’, but also ‘forfeit’, ‘lapse’): ‘No other language knows verfallen in the sense of “irretrievably lost, because enslaved by one’s own, deep-down consent”.’ What this consent amounts to is at the heart of a powerful and finely sustained novel.

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[*] The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf, translated by Christopher Middleton. Virago, 185 pp., £2.95, 15 April, 0 86068 221 8