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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Life and Adventures of
Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled
by her Minstrel Laura

Irmtraud Morgner

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To purchase The Life and Adventures

Title: The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura
Author: Irmtraud Morgner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1974 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 515 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Life and Adventures(...) - - US
The Life and Adventures(...) - UK
The Life and Adventures(...) - Canada
Vie et aventures de la trobairitz Béatrice(...) - France
Leben und Abenteuer(...) - Deutschland
  • A Novel in Thirteen Books and Seven Intermezzos
  • Translated by Jeanette Clausen
  • With an Introduction by Jeanette Clausen and Silke von der Emde
  • Also includes a Structural Plan of the Novel and a Glossary
  • German title: Leben und Abenteuer der Trobadora Beatriz nach Zeugnissen ihrer Spielfrau Laura: Roman in dreizehn Büchern und sieben Intermezzos

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Our Assessment:

A+ : a marvelous modern entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
cr Quarterly A+ 5/2001 Elizabeth Morier
Kirkus Reviews . 15/6/2000 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Trobadora Beatrice is both written well and deftly constructed. There is adventure here, and romance, and lots of sharp and sometimes bitter irony, as well as slapstick. (...) The book is thought-provoking, challenging, humorous, and outrageous. It is entertaining throughout. Reading it is creative work, and a great pleasure." - Elizabeth Morier, complete review Quarterly

  • "Literary antecedents and all, this is a one-of-a-kind novel: richly imagined, more than a little forbidding, preternaturally astute, altogether unforgettable." - Kirkus Reviews

  • "Irmtraud Morgner's Leben und Abenteuer (...) has rightly been called the most important novel to reflect on issues of women's emancipation in the GDR. Its fantasy plays and collage elements are part of the message, skillfully balancing a fundamental affirmation of socialist principles, as proclaimed by the GDR state, with frank irritations caused by the male chauvinist praxis of everyday life in the republic of workers and peasants." - Peter Demetz, After the Fires (1986)

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:

       Surprisingly little East German literature (i.e. the literature of the short-lived German Democratic Republic) has been translated into English. There have been a few nods to a few names -- most notably Christa Wolf, but also Christoph Hein and Heiner Müller -- but most remain inaccessible. Authors that can hardly be found include leading lights such as Volker Braun, Brigitte Reimann, and Karl Mickel, but among the most grievous of omissions has long been that of the brilliant Irmtraud Morgner. Finally, Morgner's work -- at least her masterpiece -- has been made accessible to an English-speaking audience, a quarter of a century after its (East) German publication.
       The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura is a major novel, a modern masterpiece, a book that ranks as significant as any written in the 1970s. It is among the handful of best novels to come out of East Germany (and, though English-speaking audiences seem not to be aware of it, some damn fine novels came out of (or perhaps stayed in) East Germany). It is one of the best novels that could be called "feminist", and one of the best that could be called "socialist", and it easily transcends these limiting ideological labels. It is a fantasy and a fugue, a fairy-tale and contemporary political novel. It is -- a rarity in these times -- a work of literature.
       The central characters are Beatrice and Laura, sharing the inspiring names familiar from Dante and Petrarch. Trobadora Beatrice de Dia is an historical figure, a twelfth-century French countess about whom practically nothing is known. Morgner appropriates the historical figure, transporting her from the twelfth-century to May, 1968 by means of an artificial and prolonged slumber. Waking up in modernity, in turbulent times, Beatrice makes her way to Paris, her troubadouric talents helping her adjust. In Paris Beatrice meets Uwe Parnitzke, an East German journalist, who describes his homeland as a "Promised Land" of equality and social(ist) ideals. Beatrice is convinced and buys a train ticket for Berlin (East).
       Laura Salman is a trolley driver in Berlin. Her first husband happened to be Uwe Parnitzke -- and just as Uwe wasn't the best person for Beatrice to run into, neither was he the best for Laura. Eventually Laura and Beatrice's paths cross, and Beatrice offers Laura the position of her minstrel. Laura -- "who couldn't imagine exactly what a minstrel was" -- is not immediately won over.
       Beatrice takes to literally generating poetry, Laura gives birth to a son (Wesselin). Eventually Laura does become Beatrice's minstrel. Beatrice and Laura try to sell a novel to one of the state publishing houses (the venerable Aufbau Verlag, which was also the publisher of this novel), and Beatrice becomes an increasingly important literary figure (getting elected to PEN, among other things). She travels to Yugoslavia and Italy, while Laura handles things in East Germany. Beatrice returns, and Laura marries for a second time. Eventually Beatrice dies.
       In fact, the novel is a much more complex tangle of tangents than any summary could suggest. There are seven intermezzi, each of which are described as "wherein the reader learns what the Beautiful Melusine copied from Irmtraud Morgner's novel Rumba for an Autumn". (This is a novel that Morgner wrote in 1964 but was not allowed to publish.) These are longer episodes, stories within the story. The bulk of the novel consists of over a hundred often very short chapters. Most are devoted to the main strands of the story, following first Beatrice and then Laura, but there are many asides. Among them are: transcripts of interviews between Irmtraud Morgner and Laura, various other stories, tales, personal asides and descriptions, letters, laudations.
       In marvelous little sketches Morgner captures the political situation and the hopes and absurdities to be found in East Germany at the time.
       Many of the issues deal specifically with women's rights (though Morgner generally also addresses the broader implications of these issues, offering more than a simple feminist critique). So, for example, abortion, legalized March 10, 1972 in the GDR:

The news prompted Laura to take off her clothes and stand in front of the mirror for a while, taking stock of her no longer state-controlled assets.
       It is only after this law has been passed that Beatrice again returns from abroad, and that Laura gets married again. A whole chapter -- six pages -- is devoted to (and titled) "excerpts from that memorable speech by Dr.Ludwig Mecklinger, Minister of Health Services of the German Democratic Republic, in which he justified the law on termination of pregnancy".
       Morgner is aware of the danger of being stamped as being too feminist, and tongue in cheek she offers, early on, a chapter titled: "Wherein Irmtraud Morgner tries by means of a solemn oath to persuade certain male readers to keep on reading". The oath should not be required -- Morgner writes engagingly enough that the focus on so-called women's issues should deter no one -- but Morgner swears that "Beatrice de Dia was a woman who matched today's ideal of beauty completely", just to keep the leering men eager and interested.
       The book begins: "Of course this country is a land of miracles" -- meaning the GDR. It is a phrase repeated several times, and miracles do abound -- from Beatrice's long slumber to the day-to-day "miracles" of the socialist state. Morgner writes with a sharp tongue, unsparing but never cruel. She points out all the flaws of the system, and still has hopes for it.
       There are a fill of stories in this novel -- always entertaining, often funny, sometimes sad. It fits together beautifully, a marvelous vision. Highly recommended.

       The translation is solid, though occasionally awkward, reading a bit stilted. This is certainly also due to Morgner's original, in which a variety of styles are invoked. Jeanette Clausen has done quite well, though perhaps not entirely well enough.
       There are numerous mentions of East German-specific acronyms, terms, and figures in the novel. The Glossary that is provided seems adequate to explain these to those unfamiliar with them.

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The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura: Reviews: Irmtraud Morgner: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       East German author Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990) was one of the leading German writers of the second half of the 20th century.

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