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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Franziska Linkerhand

Brigitte Reimann

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To purchase Franziska Linkerhand

Title: Franziska Linkerhand
Author: Brigitte Reimann
Genre: Novel
Written: (1974; rev. 1998)
Length: 639 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Franziska Linkerhand - Deutschland
Franziska Linkerhand - France
Franziska Linkerhand - Italia
Franziska Linkerhand - España
  • Franziska Linkerhand has not yet been translated into English
  • Originally published in a cut/censored edition, in 1974; uncut edition, edited by Angela Drescher, published in 1998
  • With an Afterword by Withold Bonner

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Our Assessment:

A- : bursting with energy -- and everything else

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 24/12/1998 Jochen Hieber
El País . 15/5/2017 Cecilia Dreymüller
Die Welt . 21/11/1998 Dorothea von Törne

  From the Reviews:
  • "Brigitte Reimanns Roman Franziska Linkerhand ist auch vierundzwanzig Jahre nach seinem ersten Erscheinen noch ein aufregendes, gelegentlich aufwühlendes Buch. (...) Der Roman Franziska Linkerhand wurde zu DDR-Zeiten begreiflicherweise ein Bestseller: Mit ihm konnte sich eine ganze Generation identifizieren, in ihm fanden sich all jene wieder, die oft unter Skrupeln und Selbstzweifeln, am Ende aber doch solidarisch am Aufbau einer besseren Welt mitarbeiten wollten. (...) Diese drängende, oft atemlos wirkende Vorwärtsbewegung der Sätze, das Stakkato der reihenden Aufzählungen, die beschwörenden Fragen: Man kann sich dem emphatischen Sprechen bis heute nicht entziehen. Die Welt, die der Roman schildert, gibt es nicht mehr. (...) Sie war immer unzweideutig -- und sie meinte es immer ernst. Für ihr Epos von der möglichen Größe und der realen Misere der DDR fand sie eine Erzählhaltung, die diesem Ernst angemessenen Ausdruck gab. (...) Ein wenig ermüdend wirken heute die engagierten, nicht enden wollenden Debatten um den sozialistischen Städtebau." - Jochen Hieber, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Escritas con arrojo y rabia, sus páginas rezuman sensualidad y autenticidad, su estilo es sugerente y original, cada párrafo posee tensión y chispa. (...) La versión íntegra de Franziska Linkerhand, libro fundamental para comprender la historia de la RDA, ahora se ha publicado -- gracias al esfuerzo de Errata Naturae -- en una impecable traducción de Ibon Zubiaur" - Cecilia Dreymüller, El País

  • "Erst die ungekürzte Neuedition hebt die Verflachung des Charakters der Hauptfigur auf, zerstreut die Eindeutigkeiten zugunsten freier Assoziationen, gibt den Sätzen ihre Mehrdeutigkeit zurück und der Figur Tiefe. Die Verfälschung von Figurengruppen am Rande wird ebenfalls rückgängig gemacht." - Dorothea von Törne, 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:

       Franziska Linkerhand is narrated with a penetrating intensity by the eponymous narrator, the voice shifting constantly and easily back and forth between the first person and the third, as Franziska Linkerhand writes both deeply personally (in the first person) and also from a more distant and coolly analytic perspective (in the third person) -- an effective technique. The shifts in voice are not systematic -- chapter by chapter or anything like that -- but rather flow back and forth into each other; the same goes for time, as the novel is presented roughly chronologically but also shifts back and forth, past mixing in constantly with present-day (as well as a dose of looking ahead: "Ich sehe sie nur unscharf, die sieben oder zehn Jahre ältere Frau, die meinen Namen trägt, aber ich kann sie als stumme Figur einsetzen und mitspielen lassen" ('I see her only indistinctly, that woman, seven or ten years older, who bears my name, but I can bring her in to play along as a silent figure') she imagines at one point, already anticipatorily: 'curious, what she experienced in those seven or ten years'). Her boss observes (or complains) -- accurately --: "Sie wollen alles, und Sie wollen alles sofort" ('You want everything, and you want everything immediately') and this attribute also colors the entire narrative, which seems, at every turn, to want to capture and convey everything at once, constantly (yes, giving it a somewhat exhausting quality).
       Franziska Linkerhand is autobiographically-tinged, with Franziska slightly younger than the author, and dedicating herself to architecture rather than writing (although Reimann's own self comes through so strongly that Franziska too can't keep herself from trying to write as well). Franziska grows up in a genteel upper middle-class household, her father a publisher and she very bookish from a young age. The novel begins with a young Franziska and the collapse of Germany at the end of the Second World War; among the memorable experiences are those of a neighbor family's murder-suicide as the Russians close in -- Franziska remembering seeing the bodies lying there (and later uncertain whether she had actually glimpsed them (before being pulled away by her much older brother), or just imagined seeing them from the accounts she picked up around her).
       The family manages reasonably well in the early days of the German Democratic Republic -- with infusions from holdings in the other Germany -- but her parents struggle with the collapse of the world as they know it; eventually they flee to the west, unable and uninterested in the building of a new society -- a programme Franziska, on the other hand, can believe in. Though the parents are largely distant figures, they certainly shaped Franziska; while always strong-willed, she was nevertheless formed under her mother's very strong hand -- and received a strong grounding in European culture, especially music and literature, in growing up in that environment. So also, for example, in later years, as the political divide increases, her father doesn't talk politics with her, but rather 'only about books, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne and Saint-Beuve'.
       Franziska marries very young -- an escape, too, from the in many ways stifling home atmosphere --, but the marriage doesn't stand a chance, the class differences between her and Wolfgang simply too great. He's never even read a book, and admits that when he tries to, as a favor to her, he falls asleep after two pages; the chasm between intellectual Franziska and worker Wolfgang is too deep to ever be bridged.
       Franziska studies architecture, her mentor the highly regarded Reger, who takes her under his wing -- but she insists on going her own way. She chooses not to continue assisting with the prestigious commissions Reger is involved with and instead takes a posting in the appropriately named Neustadt ('New City'), a new city being built from the ground up, a grand, large-scale urban-planning project. (Neustadt is a thinly-veiled Hoyerswerda, where Reimann also went to work.) She is met there by another representative of the old-style guard -- but it turns out it is his last day there; the new boss is the young father of four Schafheutlin, temperamentally ill-suited for a leadership position. Typically, too, despite the nature of the project he heads, he does not live on-site, but rather in a house an hour away (for the kids' sake, of course ...).
       Schafheutlin isn't happy to have to deal with a (prize) student of the legendary Reger's -- his own experiences with the master were not the best, either -- but Franziska immerses herself with a passion in her work. She is completely on board with the programme, wanting the project to succeed -- though it does wear on her that she is given tasks that could easily be accomplished by someone with less training, as her own talents are clearly being wasted here. Nevertheless, she is as pro-active as she can be -- setting up an office to help new tenants furnish their homes, for example -- and a somewhat friendlier relationship with Schafheutlin eventually develops.
       Franziska's zest for life is extreme; she is impetuous and passionate, and doesn't hold back, in word or deed. As the novel's opening makes clear, her passion is also very much of the physical sort -- the first sentence of the novel:

     Ach Ben, Ben, wo bist du vor einem Jahr gewesen, wo vor drei Jahren ?

     [Oh, Ben, Ben, where were you a year ago, three years ago ?]
       She is fairly uninhibited, drawn to men -- and almost always full of great longing. Ben, as she calls the man she comes to know in Neustadt, is the ideal she reaches for, but there are other men along the way -- not least her protective brother, a nuclear scientist, who, however, is only an occasional visitor. Ben is, or tries to be, a writer -- writing a novel (or rather: 'what we are calling a novel, provisionally') -- and eventually recounting his prison experiences in the wake of the 1956 events in Hungary, part of the general disillusioning with the system that Franziska encounters.
       When originally published in 1974, parts of Franziska Linkerhand were cut and edited -- notably the mentions and discussion of suicide, something that comes to the fore as the story progresses and that troubles Franziska. She learns that there are two suicides or suicide attempts weekly in Neustadt -- a sad reflection on this place that she wants to see as a city of hope and the future. (So too she is shocked when there is a rape in the city, something she had thought (or at least hoped) inconceivable in this new world order.)
       Reger's warning words when she announces her plans to work in Neustadt -- "Sie sind erledigt, Dame. Wer sich in die Provinz begibt, kommt darin um" ('You're done for, madam. He who goes into the provinces will perish there') -- come to take on a whole new meaning. Franziska is such a strong and strong-willed character that she can not be crushed by events and experiences, but she sees the heavy toll around her. She is an optimist, who tries to make the best of things and manages mostly very carefreely, but she is also hyperaware of her surroundings and those around her, as Franziska Linkerhand is intensely penetrating, to an almost unbearable degree.
       Franziska Linkerhand is a novel one can call staggering, not least in its breadth and depth, weight and range -- and its driven narrator. At one point Franziska admits that:
Mein Bruder sagt, ich bin neugierig wie ein Affe: Lauf und sieh, was es Neues gibt.

[My brother says that I am as curious as a monkey: run and see what's new.]
       Franziska is constantly seeking out -- experience and understanding. But there's also an astute constant reckoning, with everything, at every turn. Emotional and even capricious, Franziska is remarkably self-confident; she is aware of her many faults, of character and actions, but she hardly ever harbors any real doubt -- and she always propels herself forward. She's sharply observant and gets to the quick -- not least in her self-examination. It's a remarkable performance - breathless and dense, too, but almost always (and constantly) also deeply engrossing.
       Franziska Linkerhand is also an unfinished novel, though not an unpolished one. Arguably, much of it is almost over-polished -- though that also makes the short final chapter all the more melancholily effective, a last breath of sorts, too.
       Franziska Linkerhand is one of the highlights of East German fiction -- and all the more powerful in its uncut version, finally published in 1998. And, oh, what an incredible talent Reimann was, a terrible loss to German literature that she died so young.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 November 2021

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Franziska Linkerhand: Reviews: Brigitte Reimann: Other books by Brigitte Reimann under reviw: 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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© 2021-2023 the complete review

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