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the Complete Review
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Die Unvollendete Geschichte
und ihr Ende

Volker Braun

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To purchase Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende

Title: Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende
Author: Volker Braun
Genre: Novel
Written: 1975/97
Length: 122 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende - Deutschland
  • Includes:
    • Unvollendete Geschichte (1975)
    • Das Ende der Unvollendeten Geschichte (1996)
    • Es bleibt die unvollendete Geschichte. Ein Nachtrag (1997)
  • Unvollendete Geschichte was first published in the magazine Sinn und Form
  • Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

A- : a strong, small piece about East German life in the 1970s, with two pieces from the 1990s that shed new light on it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 5/3/1997 Mark Simeons

  From the Reviews:
  • "Brauns fortgesetzte Erzählung zeichnet exemplarisch die Windungen nach, die das Selbstbewußtsein vieler DDR-Intellektueller vollzogen hat." - Mark Simeons, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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:

       "Klammert euch an den Zaunspfahl, Rezensenten !" Volker Braun urges emphatically (albeit parenthetically) in Unvollendete Geschichte -- a hint of complicity and an admonition to cling to what one can.
       The (in)famous Unvollendete Geschichte ("Uncompleted Story") is of both literary and historical interest. It was first published in the respected East German journal, Sinn und Form in 1975 and immediately caused a huge uproar (and almost led to the closing of the magazine). It's stormy history was, as it turns out, even stormier than initially thought, as Volker Braun discovered when he was able to go through his Stasi (State Security) file after the demise of the German Democratic Republic. The two pieces appended to the story itself, added in 1996 and 1997, tell both of the reception of the original piece, and the true story behind the true story on which Braun based his novella -- proof positive of the deep-rooted corruption of the East German state. The Unvollendete Geschichte is thus, more than ever, a seminal piece of East German literature, illuminating (and terrifying) for both literary and now especially historical reasons.
       East German writers produced a number of remarkable texts in the early 1970s. Leading up to Braun's novella were such varied works as Irmtraud Morgner's The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura (see our review), Brigitte Reimann's Franziska Linkerhand, Jurek Becker's Irrführung der Behörden, and Ulrich Plenzdorf's The New Sorrows of Young W.. The latter, in particular, had a huge impact in East Germany, and it is a book that the central character in Unvollendete Geschichte, Karin, reads. It is, however, not quite the book for her: young W. (a modern East German counterpart to Goethe's Werther) is too young -- "sie verstand ihn, aber verstand sich davon nicht besser" ("she understood him, but did not understand herself better because of it").
       Volker Braun's novella tells a relatively simple story: Karin, the daughter of a local official, loves Frank, but Frank's family and personal background are somewhat dubious, with shades of criminality. Frank is not a real troublemaker, but he is not an exemplary member of the socialist state. He has received letters from the West, enough to make him a suspicious figure. Karin is pressured to stop seeing him, and she does, for a while. True love, however, conquers most things and she continues to be torn between her love for Frank and the demands of this particular society. Karin gets pregnant, Frank attempts suicide and winds up in a coma.
       Braun is hardly a sentimentalist, and Unvollendete Geschichte is not a sappy love story. It is, quite clearly, a critique of a system that can so ruthlessly grind up these basically innocent young people. Braun shows the pressures that come to bear on all those affected, .
       In large part Karin and Frank can not survive because they can not fathom the system. Karin soon learns about the necessary compromises when she works at a newspaper, being told what's fit to print and what isn't, but not fully understanding the reasoning behind these decisions. Both Karin and Frank are unable to adjust to the requirements of the system while the older generation (their parents and bosses) can. Karin is continuously baffled by reactions and the explanations that are offered -- they would never have occurred to her. Her innocence is nearly fatal -- though she realizes that understanding and accepting the absurdities around her would be a kind of suicide, "nicht des Körpers sondern des Denkens" ("not of the body but of thought"). (Significantly, Braun is concerned with thought and reason -- it would never occur to him to consider it a death of the soul; this emphasis and focus on rationality has always been one of his greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer.)
       Braun writes in a stark, direct prose, with a poet's precision. He presents the story well -- it is dramatic and touching -- and he manages to cover a great deal of ground in his societal critique. There are a number of references to the difficulty of presenting issues such as these (or, more generally, anything) in a literary form. People read in the book, but no one is satisfied with what they are reading. Karin's father is annoyed that there are so many books when a single one would suffice on any given topic. Karin reads a novel which she does not like "weil alles erfunden war, und doch nicht anders als mans kannte" ("because everything was invented and it still wasn't different from what one knew"). Braun understands the difficulty of communicating issues in literary form, but he does an admirable job here.
       The two postscripts were written twenty years after the story itself. In them Braun reveals that the Unvollendete Geschichte was based on a real occurrence -- and, as he only learnt once he looked into his voluminous Stasi file, that the young woman whom the character of Karin is based on was, in fact, an IM -- an "Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter" ("unofficial collaborator") --, compromised by the Stasi. It is a shocking account of the fundamental and pervasive rot of this society. Braun's account of the true story behind his book -- including the East German reaction that he was not aware of, as well as the West German reaction that he was all too aware of -- is of immense value to anyone interested in East German politics, literary and otherwise. It is these two postscripts that make Braun's book essential reading, and assure that the unfinished story will remain one of the defining texts of this unusual place and time.

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Die Unvollendete Geschichte und ihr Ende: Reviews: Volker Braun: Other books by Volker Braun under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       (East) German poet and dramatist Volker Braun was born in 1939. He has won numerous literary prizes, including the Heinrich Mann Prize, and the Georg Büchner Prize.

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