BERLIN (Reuters) - Christa Wolf, one of the former East Germany’s most famous authors, won the prestigious Thomas Mann Prize for literature honoring her life’s work.
The 81-year-old received the prize worth 25,000 euros ($35,090) for her work, “which investigates the struggles, hopes and mistakes of her time in a critical and self-critical way, with deep moral seriousness and powerful narratives,” the jury said in a statement.
Peter Guelke, an author and musicologist who spoke at the award ceremony, said Wolf was “an author whose words meant — and continue to mean — a lot in both East and West Germany.”
Wolf shot to fame with the publication of “Der geteilte Himmel” (“Divided Heaven”) in 1963 — a novel which investigates the issues and problems faced by the Germans living under Communist rule on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.
Wolf’s other famous works include her 1968 novel “Nachdenken ueber Christa T.” (“The Quest for Christa T”), which depicts the disillusionment of an East German woman with the socialist state in which she lives.
It was banned by the East German government, which feared that the novel could cause “ideological disorientation.”
Although Wolf joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1949 and remained a member until 1989, her attitude toward the East German Communist state was ambivalent.
In 1993 documents were found which revealed that she had worked as an informant for the East German secret police (Stasi) between 1959 and 1962.
Between 1968 and 1989 Wolf was put under Stasi surveillance for having expressed views which did not chime with official doctrine.
The experience of surveillance later became the subject of her semi-autobiographical narrative “Was bleibt,” which tells the story of a female writer who feels persecuted as she is spied on by the Stasi.
The novella created a wave of controversy when it was published in 1990 after having been written in 1979.
Wolf’s critics argued that she should have published it before the demise of the East German state became imminent. Leaving it until Germany found itself in the throes of reunification was evidence of her cowardice and opportunism, they said.
Others said the novella was insensitive toward those who had genuinely suffered under Communism in East Germany. After all, Wolf had commanded respect among functionaries of the East German regime and enjoyed privileges as a result.
Wolf was one of the most prominent opponents of German reunification and publicly campaigned for the continued existence of an independent German Democratic Republic.
Reporting by Michelle Martin, editing by Paul Casciato