August by Christa Wolf

20151116_085158If I hadn’t known the author of this short story, I would have never guessed it to be Christa Wolf. Unlike her other works (at least the ones I’ve read), I found August to be easily accessible, easy to read, and quietly powerful. It was such a pleasure.

In the winter of 1946, August is a young patient at a tuberculosis hospital. Considering this time and place, it is not hard to guess what to expect. The only light among the hardship is Lilo, an older teenager who holds the wards together. August adores her.

Sixty years later, August is reflecting on his time at the hospital and his life afterwards. It has been a quiet life, but despite the few details he reveals, his recollections are suffused with the feeling that it has been a life well lived.

August keeps his cool. He never gets impatient. You have the patience of an angel, Trude used to tell him. He never loses his temper. His workmates appreciate that. Sometimes, he knows, they think he’s a bit boring. Come on, say something for a change, they used to nudge him in the beginning when they sat together in their lunch break. But what did he have to say? He had no reason to complain […].

I feel that a simple summary does not do this book justice. It is short and certainly a quick read, but it hints at so much more. To me, its power lies in the fact that it is a reminder that a life, even a quiet one, is always more than the few sentences that summarize it. I found it very moving.

The book has been translated by Katy Derbyshire (check out her blog) and published by Seagull Books. I was fortunate enough to win a copy from Caroline and Lizzy, hosts of German Literature Month.

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7 comments

  1. Christ Wolf is on my list of writers to try at some point, but I’ve been wondering where to start. This sounds like a good way into her work, possibly more accessible than some of her novels.

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