Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf

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Four stars, read in July 2018.

Second stop on my literary backpacking trip through Europe: East Germany in the 1980s, the day after the Chernobyl accident. I’ve been wanting to read Christa Wolf for a while now, more especially Cassandra and Medea, but—once again—my choice was made for me by the limited collection of my local libraries. (For the record, the Orem library in particular actually has an excellent collection, just not of the kinds of books I happen to want. Translated literary fiction isn’t in high demand in Utah Valley.)

Everything I have been able to think and feel has gone beyond the boundaries of prose.

This book was difficult to follow at times because of the stream of consciousness style, which made me feel as though I were coming into conversations already in progress—but that’s not a criticism, rather a recognition of successful execution.

We have not said too much—rather, too little—and that little bit too timidly and too late. And why? For banal reasons. Because of insecurity. Because of fear. Because of lack of hope. And, strange as the claim may be: because of hope as well. Deceitful hope, which produces the same results as paralyzing despair.

Wolf’s thoughts on humanity are both very specific to Chernobyl—with extensive discussion of technology, Star Wars (both the films and Reagan’s defense initiative), etc.—and so broad as to be equally relevant today. The quote above, for instance, sounds to me like she’s describing the way religion has protected (and still protects) every form of oppression we try to undo.

The prehuman may also have approached another member of its horde with hands raised to symbolize peaceful intentions before it could speak. Yet only with the help of language . . . did the humans of one horde seem to have dissociated themselves from another horde: the one who spoke differently was the other, was not human, was not subject to the murder taboo . . . Language which creates identity but which, at the same time, makes a decisive contribution to the dismantling of the inhibition about killing that member of the species who speaks differently.

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