My review of “I Have No Regrets: Diaries, 1955-1963” Brigitte Reimann

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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.”

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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

 

 

 

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. I am a member of the Manchester and Salford National Union of Journalists.If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in book review, Communism, education, novels, political women, Socialism, Uncategorized, women, working class history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My review of “I Have No Regrets: Diaries, 1955-1963” Brigitte Reimann

  1. sandy rose says:

    Thought your review was v good Bernadette . I hate that period in Russian or German films people so alienated by secret police and the stasi and the Wall and alienating in films and books. What else could intelligent or left wing people of both classes do but drink,have affairs and go mad. Xx

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