Brigitte Reimann was an East German writer and an avid chronicler of her own life through her diaries. In this new book we follow her as she becomes a successful writer, but at a turbulent time for her and the GDR in the years between 1955 and 1963.
Reimann was like many people in their 20s; too much drink, too many men, and too much doubt about her future as a writer. The diaries are unusual for this period in detailing her affairs with numerous men. It seems a very modern book in that sense – reflecting a present day obsession (now played out in social media) with the importance of self. She says “The diary is not dedicated to my adulterous escapades; it’s not about love and liaisons – I want to record whatever happens to me on my journey to becoming a writer.”
But self and navel gazing was not what was expected of writers by the GDR state. Reimann knew this, and in the diary says, . “I want to dedicate my whole life to this one aim;to help people through literature, and fulfil my duties, the duties we share with humanity”.
Her first two books were rejected by the publishers on the grounds they were counter revolutionary, decadent, morbid, bizarre and this took a toll on Reimann. “It was a damned hard blow, and it took me a long time to recover.”
Reimann was regularly visited by the Stasi. She had spoken up for writers who had been persecuted by the State and was not surprised when they turned up at her door. Forced to sign a statement of secrecy and adopt the code name “Caterine”, she agreed to pass on “legitimate complaints about errors and inadequacies to the Stasi so they can take remedial action.” Reimann refused to name names, but she still believed in the socialist state. “When compared with capitalism, it represents a higher development, a progression of mankind.”
But when her husband is imprisoned she has to call on the Stasi for help, whilst knowing that there will be a price to be paid. It is not clear from the diaries what this is, as she continues to rail against the authorities and is given a job working in a refinery, as well as being a writer in residence.
With her second husband, Daniel, Reimann moves to Hoyerswerda, a new town, to take up their jobs in the refinery. They are expected to work in the laboratory, as well as taking on responsibility for a group of workers in a workers writers’ circle. She says; “The plant is starting to squeeze their money’s worth out of them. We’ve been reading manuscripts, giving receptions for writing workers, having hour long discussions; now we’re style-editing a brochure.” This is on top of working on the shop floor, including grinding valves which seems to bring her more satisfaction. “Felt wonderfully strong in overalls and with dirty hands-a new feeling, slightly exuberant.”
Reimann confesses to being “middle class”, no doubt brought on by working side by side with manual workers. Inspired by her time there she writes a classic of socialist realism Arrival in Everyday Life, the story of three young people who postpone their studies to work in a plant in Hoyerswerda.
But her successful career is dominated by the politics of the Cold War. Her brother escapes the country, the Wall goes up, and the political atmosphere for writers depresses Reimann. The diaries are revealing for her continued affairs with men and her failed marriages – she marries four times – excessive drinking and much personal unhappiness. She died in 1973 of cancer, aged just 40.
My copy of I Have No Regrets did not include an introduction, and so I do not know who agreed to publish the diaries. Maybe they should have been edited as I did feel the reader was given too much information about her love life. I felt sorry for her that she had no close female friend with whom she could have shared the doubts and depressions of her life. Reading the diaries without being able to read Reimann’s novels is also a problem and hopefully the publishers will now consider publishing them.
Buy it for £19.99 here