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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume

Brigitte Reimann

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To purchase Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume

Title: Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume
Author: Brigitte Reimann
Genre: Novel-fragments
Written: (1956/7)
Length: 237 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume - Deutschland
  • Zwei unvollendete Romane
  • Two novel fragments: Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume (written in 1957) and Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... (1956); first published in 2003
  • With an Afterword by Withold Bronner
  • With several documents regarding the (non-)publication history of the texts
  • A fuller version of Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... has now been published as the novel Die Denunziantin (2022)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : incomplete, but still good reading, and of considerable historical interest in their picture of the GDR of those times

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Der Spiegel . 23/11/2003 Volker Hage
Die Welt . 15/11/2003 Hannes Schwenger
Die Zeit . 9/10/2003 Katharina Döbler

  From the Reviews:
  • "Faszinierend ist vor allem die Neufassung der Schülergeschichte, die ahnen lässt, wohin die Erzählung nun steuern sollte (.....) Was Brigitte Reimann hier weitgehend autobiografisch erzählt, hat sie allerdings andernorts, in ihren Tagebüchern, unendlich präziser, mit mehr Witz und Verzweiflung dargestellt." - Volker Hage, Der Spiegel

  • "Und viel mehr Handlung als die Irrungen und Wirrungen junger Künstler, die noch nichts von Bitterfeld wissen, weisen die unverkrampft herunter geschriebenen Kapitel auch nicht auf (.....) Der literarisch noch unbeholfene Schülerroman ist nicht der bessere, aber der für Brigitte Reimanns weiteren Weg maßgebliche Text." - Hannes Schwenger, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume collects two unfinished novels by Brigitte Reimann, Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume ('The Girl on the Lotus Flower'; written in 1957) and Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... ('When it's the hour to speak ...'; 1956). (A more complete variation of the latter has now been published as Die Denunziantin (2022).) They are very different works, the first based closely on personal experience (and written in the first person), the second much more an attempt at engaging with the political situation in an East Germany beginning to try to build a socialist state, but both already show a clearly talented writer at work. Though unfinished, and at times somewhat simplistic, they are by no means unpolished and much of the writing is already very strong.

       Echoes of Reimann's early diary, I Have No Regrets can be found throughout Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume. The young narrator -- just twenty-two -- is named Maria and a painter, though several of the men in her circle are writers (and while she doesn't speak much of her own art-making, she does note that: "Wenn ich Schriftsteller wär wie Joe und Hendrik, mir wär nicht bange um Stoff für Bücher" ('If I were a writer like Joe and Hendrik, I wouldn't worry about finding material for books').) She writes from an artist retreat, where her room is next to that of Joe, a writer more than a decade older than her (and married with two children), whom she has become intimately involved with. (Joe's real name is Walter Z., but she has a habit -- as Reimann herself did -- of giving the men in her life new names, and for her he is Joe, short for Johannes; he in turn calls her Maja (the only one who is allowed to do so).)
       Maria receives word that a friend of hers, the sculptor she calls Heiliger Georg ('Holy George') has sustained serious injuries to his eyes, with much of the story then recounting first her time in the atelier she fled for this retreat, where Georg was part of her circle, and then a visit by Georg to the colony, after she summoned him. She also chronicles her complicated relationship with Joe -- all complicated further by the small group of other residents at the retreat.
       Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume is a story of personal passions -- of the kind familiar to readers of Reimann's diaries. Even as she and Joe do become deeply involved and lovers, she recognizes and admits: "Eigentlich passen wir gar nicht zusammen" ('Actually, we don't fit together at all'). She is ardent but impetuous, hard-drinking (as Reimann was) and intense. Typically, too, when she sees a sign saying 'Entry Prohibited' she pushes through: "Ich kann Verboten einfach nicht widerstehen" ('I simply can't resist the forbidden').
       It is a somewhat melodramatic story, as Maria tries to navigate the power she has over men and her own strong feelings --much as she does in her diaries, as this novel is in many ways only a lightly fictionalized variation on Reimann's own experiences. Reimann does add some drama -- the injury to Georg; a confrontation with one of the other residents at the retreat, an older female critic -- and a very short second part of the novel suggests a new chapter (as, intriguingly, the first part carries a dedication 'for Joe' while the second has: 'for Hendrik', another writer at the retreat who Maria gets close to). Nevertheless, the novel does remain fragmentary, an interesting example of an author fictionalizing her own experiences, but one she hasn't quite managed to fully shape into a complete novel.

       Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... centers around high school senior Eva Hennig as she joins a class in her new school in the small city which her mother has just been named mayor of. Stalin's picture is still up on the school walls and the border to the Western occupied zone is still porous. Eva's mother is dedicated to the Communist cause and doesn't take advantage of her position by, for example, claiming large living quarters; she's satisfied with an adequate apartment, near to work. Eva barely sees her, however, since she keeps so busy with her duties.
       Eva acknowledges that even otherwise: "Ich bin immer allein" ('I am always alone') -- despite, for example always having had swarms of friends around her: "Aber das war auch bloß äußerlich, verstehst du ?, ganz im Innern war ich doch immer allein" ('But that was only on the outside, you understand ? inside, I was always alone'). She is tasked with promoting the political activity of her class, a group that can seem a bit apathetic. Her privileged status -- not least, as the daughter of such an important figure, which people always take into account when dealing with her -- blinds her some to the issues some of her fellow students face.
       Maria's own father was murdered at Buchenwald, while a Jewish classmate is a survivor of Auschwitz (one of four and a half thousand Jewish and half-Jewish children sent to Auschwitz, with only seventy-three surviving when the Russians freed the camp). Reimann weaves in this and other recent history well, including the situation at the school and the compromises made there -- including the 1949 arrest of student Kurt Hansen, just fifteen years old at the time, basically condemned for the sins against the state of his parents -- an event that still haunts the school, limiting the willingness of both the school administration and the students to speak up and out against injustice and the like. Meanwhile, while Eva maintains that joining the FDJ -- the Freie Deutsche Jugend ('Free German Youth') organization -- is purely voluntary, her eyes are opened to the fact that, in fact, the pressure to do so is almost impossible to avoid, students worried they will not get a spot at university if they are not card-carrying members.
       Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... is of particular interest for the political issues it raises , and its description of East Germany at that time -- presumably around 1953, before the East German uprising (and the crack-down that followed). There's already decent story here, but this too is an unfinished novel. The writing is less sure than in Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume -- more juvenile too, though given its largely high school setting that doesn't detract as much as it otherwise might; still, it can feel more like a YA novel -- also in its exploration of its themes -- than a fully adult one.
       Tucked in all this there is some very fine writing, including a description of the school-building and: "das wunderliche Stilgemisch des alten Gebäudes" ('the fantastical mix of styles of the old building') -- Ionic columns, Corinthian arabesques, a Baroque sweep here, Gothic windows there, suggesting the complex mix found in the school, and this society, itself.

       The two pieces in Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume don't offer the satisfactions of complete works, but they are still of interest and appeal -- fine stories, as far as they go, and showing a variety of interesting approaches to dealing with a variety of themes (very different themes and approaches in the two works). Joe und das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume is also particularly interesting to consider in light of Reimann's diaries, an author trying to create fiction around her own experiences. Meanwhile, Wenn die Stunde ist, zu sprechen ... gives a good picture and impression of a slice of East German life from a time that is too rarely found in fiction (at least in a more realistic way: most East German fiction describing those times tends to present these as 'heroic', focusing on what is seen as the positives in the struggle for a new society to emerge out of the post-Nazi rubble).
       This is a solid collection that is worth reading not only for Reimann-completists, suggesting already what a remarkable talent this author was.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 January 2023

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Das Mädchen auf der Lotosblume: Reviews: Brigitte Reimann: Other books by Brigitte Reimann under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       East German author Brigitte Reimann lived 1933 to 1973.

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© 2023 the complete review

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