Not much East German writing has reached this country in the 30 years of that state’s existence. The publication in 1977 of a slim volume of sensitive observations by the hitherto unknown Reiner Kunze, The Wonderful Years (New York: George Braziller), was an important event, and not only because of the book’s unusual qualities (about which more later). It presents a good occasion for a brief look at that country’s literature.
Literature from—not of or in—East Germany, this is the first thing to be said. For some of the best writing from beyond the Elbe River could not be published there, but reached the world through West German publishers, sometimes with, sometimes without permission of the East German authorities who pocket the greater part of the authors’ royalties. Many of East Germany’s more original writers have gone through long periods of silence, of cramping accommodations to official “suggestions,” of detours onto the safer ground of lyric poetry or translation....
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