A German in America

Friday, February 15, 2013

"City of Angels," by Christa Wolf. Translated by Damion Searls. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 320 pp. $27.00

Christa Wolf is regarded as one of the most celebrated authors in post-war Germany. Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, her Stasi files were declassified, and she was once again allowed access. Much of what she found was expected, however one small, green envelope gained her attention. Apparently, in the early 1960s, Wolf was an informant for the Communist government. Nearly 30 years later, she doesn't remember one moment of the experience.

"City of Angels" is a book of memory, told through the increasingly anxious mind of the protagonist, a rather autobiographical interpretation of the author. We're told in the front matter that every character aside from Christa is imagined. But, as we are well aware, memory doesn't always tell the same story twice.

At the point in her life the story is written, somewhere in the mid-1990s, Christa is a Getty fellow, living for a period of time in Los Angeles and working adjacent to other fellows from all over the world.

In addition to her professional reasons for traveling to L.A., Christa is there to track down the author of a series of letters sent to her friend, Emma. Known only as "L", this writer clearly knew Emma fairly well, and Christa is interested in finding out more.

Because it is told largely by stream-of-consciousness, finding the plot thread running throughout the novel is difficult, and may require going back to reread a passage or two for clarity. But the artistry contained within these pages is stunning, and kept me coming back for another glimpse into her world.

The impeccable flow, combined with the intrigue behind the unknown "L" and the subject of Christa's second-person perspective passages kept my intrigue; with every page I had more questions, which only led me searching deeper to find the answers.

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