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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

It All Tastes of Farewell

Brigitte Reimann

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To purchase It All Tastes of Farewell

Title: It All Tastes of Farewell
Author: Brigitte Reimann
Genre: Diary
Written: (1998) (Eng. 2021)
Length: 441 pages
Original in: German
Availability: It All Tastes of Farewell - US
It All Tastes of Farewell - UK
It All Tastes of Farewell - Canada
Alles schmeckt nach Abschied - Deutschland
  • Diaries 1964-1970
  • Translated by Steph Morris
  • First published posthumously, in 1998
  • Edited by Angela Drescher

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Our Assessment:

B : often fascinating personal account and glimpse of a slice of East German life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 30/5/1998 Mark Siemons
GDR Bulletin . (26:1) 1999 Judith H. Cox
Der Spiegel . 20/4/1998 Volker Hage
Die Welt . 17/6/1998 Jürgen Serke

  From the Reviews:
  • "Man ermißt am Grad der Enttäuschung die Größe der Hoffnungen, die zuvor auf eine selbständige Kultur gesetzt wurden." - Mark Siemons, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "An extremely valuable aspect of both volumes is the Anmerkungen. This section provides extensive explanations and clarifications of persons, organizations and events mentioned in the diaries. These help to make these books readable for those less familiar with the GDR and provide helpful information for scholars on the more cryptic references in the entries. (...) These volumes are a great addition to Reimann scholarship. Her diary entries are interesting reading, not only for those interested in knowing more about Reimann, but as documents of events and personalities involved in the literary history of the first decades of the GDR." - Judith H. Cox, GDR Bulletin

  • "Paradox bleibt: Gerade jene Vitalität, die sie immer neu vor der Anpassung an die Parteidoktrin bewahrt hat, ist wohl der Grund dafür, daß sie nicht daran dachte, die DDR zu verlassen. Was sie an diesem Staat festhalten ließ, war heftiger als das Gefühl der Liebe: Es war Haßliebe." - Volker Hage, Der Spiegel

  • "(W)ir sind in diesem Tagebuch nicht in der Pariser Bohème. Wir sind in der spießigsten aller Welten: der DDR. In diesem Lebensbereich ist Brigitte Reimann für alle, die sich zur Nomenklatura rechnen, ein Stück Verruchtheit, mit der sie sich gerne schmücken und drücken." - Jürgen Serke, 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:

[Note: This review is based on the German original, and all translations are my own; I have not seen the English translation.]

       It All Tastes of Farewell is the second volume of Brigitte Reimann's diaries, following on I Have No Regrets and covering the years 1964 to 1970. The focus here is on her slow progress with her novel Franziska Linkerhand -- a novel that was then only published posthumously, in 1974 (and unabridged only in 1998; it has still not been translated into English) -- while her personal life remains tumultuous: another marriage (to Hans Kerschek, called Jon here) goes south here, and by the end of these diaries she is preparing for her fourth marriage, to Dr. Rudolf Burgartz (ten years her junior), and increasingly debilitated by the cancer that would kill her, aged only thirty-nine, in 1973. It is also a time of political change in the German Democratic Republic, any hope for a continuing turn towards liberalization already dim by the mid-1960s and finally completely dashed by the Prague Spring.
       Reimann is well-settled in the model city of Hoyerswerda at the beginning of these diaries, but much of the strain on her marriage certainly comes from her husband often having to work elsewhere, while Reimann needs companionship and particularly enjoys male company. (The GDR literary industry, which she was very much part of, was male-dominated, but even beyond this it is noteworthy how few female friends she has (or at least mentions having), and how little time she spends in female company; Christa Wolf is among the few women she feels she can (and does) turn to, but they only rarely actually meet.) These diaries also cover the time of her move to Neubrandenburg, a transition to a somewhat more traditionally metropolitan setting.
       Reimann's diaries are an interesting outlet: a record of events along with some reflection, confessional but not a comprehensive outpouring. She mentions that there are things that she can not bring herself to write about, for example, -- though also admits using the diaries as a place to record things she doesn't feel she can write or otherwise share with acquaintances -- but she also only turns to it intermittently, with days and weeks often passing between entries. In 1966 there's a falling-off, months between some of the entries -- even as she notes, in one catch-up post, that life has been particularly eventful; it's well into 1968 before she really picks things up again.
       Through it all, there's a surprising evenness to how she relates events. Only very rarely are there any sort of outbursts, and even as she presents herself as a very emotional person, easily carried away, her accounts remain calm, almost neutral. So also major events, such as her receiving the Heinrich Mann Prize, a leading literary prize, are presented with only a bit of reflection -- and, even more remarkably, she deals with her cancer diagnosis simply and matter-of-factly. This consistent approach is all the more striking when compared to how she describes herself: 9 August 1968 she gets the benign results of a medical procedure and admits to incredible worry and now relief -- a rare use of an exclamation point making it all the clearer how great her relief is:

Gott, war ich glücklich ! Monatelang diese Tagsüber verdrängte Angst, ich hätte vielleicht Krebs ...

[God, was I happy ! All these months the fear I repressed during the daytime that I might have cancer ...]
       (Typically, the earlier entries in fact give no hint how much this had been troubling her -- though admittedly this is from a period when she wasn't writing much in her diary (perhaps because of these fears ?).)
       As readers familiar with her biography are all too aware, the respite was short-lived: on 11 September she gets the bad news: she has cancer and her right breast has to be removed. It's not even the first thing she mentions in that day's entry, and beyond noting that it came as a 'terrible shock' she only devotes a few lines to it. So also after the operation, she devotes only a few lines to it -- and, beyond the annoyance at the weakness in her arm from the procedure and what they cut away, it barely rates a mention afterwards. Admittedly, again, there are long gaps between entries here, but the impression here and throughout is of a person who just wants to -- and admirably manages to -- move on. (Of course, in some respects, such as her more intimate relationships with men, she moves on almost shockingly easily, or even desperately.)
       Illness -- back problems as well as the cancer -- and hospital stays come more to the fore at the later stages, but Reimann doesn't wallow much, complaining mostly about the inconvenience and being kept from writing.
       Writing remains central to Reimann, and it is her Franziska Linkerhand-project that consumes her; it is one of the few stable elements in her life -- though also marked by instability as she often struggles with parts of it. The (shifting) political situation complicate matters too, with a constant give and take with the authorities, as also the early chapters of the novel circulate and she gets reactions to them; by 1968 her disillusionment with the system and her annoyance with her own self-censorship have come much more to the fore. She finds her earlier books limited, but also notes that some of what she wants to express is untenable in the society and political system she operates in:
Ich möchte schreiben, nur so kann ich existieren, nur, mein Gott, was ich schreiben möchte ... Ich werde es tun, Arbeit für die Schublade. Das Buch allerdings muß fertig werde, das enthält wenigstens eine Spur dessen, was ich zu sagen habe

[I have to write, that's the only way I can exist, only, my God, what I want to write ... I will do it, works for the drawers. The book, however, has to get done; that at least contains a trace of what I have to say.]
       Often emotional, especially in her relationships -- things get way out of hand on a number of occasions --, Reimann nevertheless has her writing to turn back to, the foundation that is ultimately her bedrock even as all else is inconstant. As a melancholy Reimann admits at one point, getting at the crux of her difficulties with men:
Ich sagte: der Schriftsteller is stärker als die traurige Frau. Ja, sagte er, bei dir siegt immer der Schriftsteller.

[I said: the writer is stronger than the sad woman. Yes, he said, it's always the writer in you that comes out on top.]
       As to the writing itself, the contrast with Christa Wolf is revealing. As Reimann herself notes, she respects Wolf's style but it isn't for her; she finds Wolf's writing: 'essayistic -- I mean: she does not fabulate' ("sie erzählt nicht"). Or, in blunter terms, as Reimann quotes then-still Aufbau Verlag editor Klaus Gysi about the difference between Reimann and Wolf's books: "Die Reimann weiß wenigstens, wie ein Mann riecht" ('Reimann at least knows what a man smells like'). Reimann obviously quotes the words approvingly -- and even says she's 'touched' by the remark -- and, while a very raw way of putting it, it does indeed peg the two authors perfectly.
       Politically active -- in the writers' organizations that played such a significant role in East Germany -- Reimann has increasing difficulties reconciling her fundamental belief in the workers' state with the realities of the regime. In 1965 already she worries about a coming ice-age: "Überall herrscht Konfusion, die Stücke und Bücher werden jetzt en masse sterben" ('There's confusion everywhere, plays and books will die en masse now'), and she is devastated by the events in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. As events unfold in Czechoslovakia, she is is incredibly frustrated:
Ich habe geweint: unseretwegen, über uns, aus Zorn. Zornig auch gegen mich selbst -- Mitmacher, Schweiger.

[I cried: for our sakes, and about us, out of fury. Fury also against myself -- fellow traveler, not speaking up.]
       As with everything else, however, she is also able to move on: politics and her disillusionment feature, and there are consequences to her reactions to the Prague Spring, but she does not obssess or indeed let it affect her day-to-day life any more than it must (given the role of the authorities over so many aspects of her life -- from housing to publication). It's not indifference -- Reimann has and continues to express strong opinions -- but, just as with the cancer, she won't let it dominate her life. She manages to compartmentalize this too.
       Only men drift constantly into her life, and add to her turmoil. She likes to drink (a lot), and though she often withdraws she also enjoys those long nights in the company of others. And those intimate nights in the company of others. Even she seems bemused by her messy casual relationships -- though admirably there's very little sense of shame here. More problematic are the deeper relationships, such as with husband 'Jon', which of course suffers from their frequent separation and their lust (he too has an affair).
       The presentation of the material is well done -- with the one caveat that there are a lot ellipses, material not included because of repetition or for legal reasons. A more than thirty-page chronology of (world and local) events; a summary chronology of Reimann's life; sixty pages of helpful endnotes; as well as a names-index provide most of the supporting material readers need. While much is only addressed fleetingly, the diary does touch on much of the East German cultural activity as well as the politics in these times; if not an ideal primary text on these, the diaries nevertheless are useful complementary material for anyone interested in this period and subject-matter.
       Reimann is a fascinating figure -- an obsessed writer, enthusiastic reader ("Wochenlang Thomas Mann gelesen" ('reading Thomas Mann for weeks on end') she notes after finally getting the complete works; "Ich kann über nichts anderes mehr sprechen, das wird schon manisch" ('I can't speak of anything else any more; I'm completely obsessed')) -- even as she worries, late on, briefly about no longer reading as much -- hard drinker (and smoker, which passes almost unnoticed in those times when it was so ubiquitous that it barely rates a mention), phenomenally active and involved. She presents herself as very emotional -- mentioning incredibly heated arguments and long crying-jags -- yet the diary-entries are very controlled: she is almost always able to step back in her accounts, though she also doesn't convey a sense of cold distance in doing so. The absence of self-pity is welcome -- and, given some of what she goes through, quite remarkable. Obviously, the entries only form part of a picture -- but it's a rich part, and there's a great deal of fascinating incidental information to go along with it.
       Perhaps difficult to appreciate without at least some sense of East German (literary) life in the 1960s, It All Tastes of Farewell is nevertheless both fascinating and gripping (not least, sadly, in the reader's awareness of what's coming, a life that will be cut short).

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 December 2019

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It All Tastes of Farewell: Reviews: Brigitte Reimann: Other books by Brigitte Reimann under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       East German author Brigitte Reimann lived 1933 to 1973.

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