This month, Seagull Books published the second volume of Brigitte Reimann’s 1960s diaries under the title It All Tastes of Farewell (translated by Steph Morris). Following last year’s I Have No Regrets (translated by Berlin’s Lucy Jones), these books bring to life a highly talented and unconventional author, a woman determined to live life to its fullest despite the constrictions of her time. Now is a fine moment to (re)discover Brigitte Reimann (1933-1973).
Reimann wrote from a young age and had a promising career within official GDR literature, yet she never published a novel: her great, unfinished Franziska Linkerhand (1974) was only released following her early death from cancer. Published during her life, Riemann’s diaries recount the everyday life of an author (and chronic adulterer) with great wit and style. She goes to Berlin and hobnobs with luminaries; she has money problems, gives readings, gets hit on by dreadful older men; she complains that only talentless hacks get prizes, and is thrilled when she herself wins one. “Oh and yet again Berlin finished us off,” she writes. “That city eats people… The stress is mind-bending, the agitation, the gossip, all the convoluted intrigues our friends report.” So far, so classic for the literary life.
But East German politics relentlessly intrude. Reimann grows “increasingly alienated” by GDR authorities demanding obedience from the nation’s authors, but never stops being a socialist. Ultimately, her loyalty – above all political and romantic entanglements – is to her art. This passion comes through in her diaries, haunted as they are by her frustrations and failing health. Reimann is a brilliant observer of social milieus, a ruthless self-analyst and often strikingly humorous. One hopes Franziska Linkerhand will be translated soon.
Meanwhile, we have her diaries. They are, in a sense, the other unfinished novel of her life. “I know full well the book is made up solely of digressions,” she notes of Franziska, “but I can’t explain why I want to write it that way right now: intense clusters of life, the everyday with the random and unnecessary. A protest against plots, against the novel form, which seems too crystalline, too purified, too artificial, too clear in our unclear world.”