Monday, 5 April 2010

A model childhood (Wolf)

It took me a while to get around to reading another book by Christa Wolf, having struggled so much with No place on Earth. So I am glad that I had A model childhood on my shelves because otherwise it might have taken me even longer to read something else, and I found this a much better experience.

A model childhood is the story of Nelly, who is 4 and living in Landsberg, Germany in 1933 when Hitler comes to power. The book is essentially an exploration of her life in Hitler's Germany, joining Nazi youth organisations and becoming indoctrinated in the Nazi values of community and anti-semitism. The story is told from an adult perspective, as Nelly in the 1970s revisits the places of her childhood. It was masterfully told, giving a dual vision into the period - that with hindsight of an adult and that of a child. Nelly tries to come to terms with having watched the burning of the synagogues and not feeling anything when an aunt is brought under the "voluntary euthanasia" programme for being a bit dotty.

It was also particularly interesting to have another insight into the Second World War from a non-British perspective - I recently wrote about a book of letters written in Germany during the war on my other blog and this was a useful companion. The main quibble with the book was that although the prose was very lyrical it did not read particularly easily for me - I think that is probably attributable to the fact that the book was written in German and that was a translation, but there was a certain beauty in the slightly unfamiliar use of language and grammar.

I am now very keen to go on to read The quest for Christa T which is set in the same period and which I imagine will also be a fascinating read.

This has been published twice by Virago with appropriately Germanic looking cover images. My copy is the second, later edition. 3*.


  1. Hi Verity - I'm trying to get my hands on a copy of the earliest Virago edition of 'A Model Childhood' (the picture on top) for my research - do you have any tips? I can only seem to find editions with the girl on the front... If you have any advice about where I might be able to find one, I'd be very grateful!

  2. I have absolutely no idea Caroline I'm afraid - I looked on Amazon and ebay but without knowing when the first one was published it's difficult to look - think you may have to get lucky in Oxfam...

  3. I have just started to read A Model Childhood. I am having difficulty reading it though. It starts with an author trying to write a book - in the third person. She goes on journey for research. The character, Nelly is introduced to us. Is she a fictional character in her book? Lenka and Lutz are they the author's real child and brother. I haven't got far with the book and I want to continue reading but it keeps flipping from the author's life to the fictional characters and I am getting confused!
    Many thanks if you can put me on the right track.
    Helen Rosenblatt