The Quest for Christa T

The Quest for Christa T

Book - 1971
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Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, [1971, c1970]
ISBN: 9780374239886
0374239886
Characteristics: 185 p. 21 cm

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m
mayog
Feb 21, 2019

Her secret, which I'd been looking for all the time we'd known each other, was a secret no longer. What she wanted, in her inmost depths, what she dreamed of and what she'd long ago begun to do, now lay open before me, incontestable and beyond the shadow of a doubt. ...She was trying out the possibilities of life until nothing should be left.

m
mayog
Feb 21, 2019

It didn't happen the way one can tell it; but if once can tell it as it was, then one wasn't in on it, or it all happened so long ago that candor comes too easily. In order to make the story tellable, one has to separate and put into sequence events which in reality were so entangled as to be inexplicable...”

m
mayog
Feb 21, 2019

She was doubtful, amid our toxic swirl of new namegiving; what she doubted was the reality of names, though she had to deal with them; she certainly felt that naming is seldom accurate, name and thing coincide only for a short time. She shrank from stamping any name on herself, the brand mark which decides which herd you belong to and which stable you should occupy.

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m
mayog
Feb 21, 2019

The Quest for Christa T. differs significantly from other books I have read in two respects: 1) it is set in postwar East Germany, about which I know relatively little; 2) it is narrated in a psychological mode that I sometimes find hard to follow --especially as I read it in translation.

The book tells you, at the outset, what it seeks to be about: the attempt to be oneself. That may seem a straightforward goal, but it rarely is in any society. And this novel is not set in just any society. It begins at the end of WWII in Germany, and is told through the eyes of a German narrator who is a child in the midst of this chaos. It then continues through the turmoil of postwar East Germany, ending the narration in 1962, just after the erection of the Berlin Wall starts to take place. The narrator, through remembrances and papers of Christa T. tells of what would be an unremarkably ordinary life--were it not a life lived in that historical period. Christa T, for this author, seems unwilling to concede to any of the grand narratives around her, whether fascist or Stalinist. And this failed but constant quest to be herself, to be an "I" in societies that demand "we" of their members seems to end in her early death to leukemia, as we hear in the very first chapter.

The novel does not follow forms of writing typically familiar to northern and western readers. However, sitting with the musings of the narrator can yield some deeper insights not only into postwar German life but into questions such as "what does it mean to become fully oneself," and "can one ever fully live out one's truth in the midst of society?"

The tenor of the book is pensive and self-reflective. It is a book to be read slowly with several pots of tea, and then reread again.

manoush May 26, 2015

A slim, readable but very deep and elusive novel. The narrative style demands focused attention; it's the sort of writing that's very clear and simple on the surface but has many layers. The storyline is minimal: a woman recalls her deceased friend, Christa T., who died young and was an exceptional human being. The narrator tries to assemble a portrait of Christa T. out of fragments, and both the writing and the portrait are themselves fragmentary and elusive. Though she was an 'ordinary' schoolteacher and wife of a veterinarian, Christa T. had an extraordinary spirit. A woman of insight, constant striving, and imagination, she always tried to transcend the ordinary and access deeper dimensions of experience. The most important thing about her, says the narrator, is that "she had a vision of herself." She lived her short life constantly attempting to be herself and not succumbing to the givens of existence.

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m
mayog
Feb 21, 2019

mayog thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

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