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In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts by Eugen…

In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Eugen Ruge

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2711541,869 (3.92)21
Title:In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts
Authors:Eugen Ruge
Collections:Your library
Tags:Deutschland, Familie, Kommunismus, Desillusion, Geschichte 1952-2001, Roman

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In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts: Roman einer Familie by Eugen Ruge (2011)



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English (6)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Danish (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This is a very impressive, extremely well written family saga set against the background of the collapse of the communist system in East Germany. There are some superb set-piece scenes, and very clever use of descriptive writing to convey the mood of particular moments in time and layers of society. You can see why one critic (quoted, of course, in the back cover blurb) rather gushingly called it the "DDR-Buddenbrooks" — a comparison that Ruge was obviously angling for by the way he structured the book as a series of widely-spaced vignettes of family events whilst letting the big history happen offstage.

But of course it isn't a Buddenbrooks. I was disappointed with the book as a whole and felt that it didn't live up to the technical quality of the writing. The problem seems to be that Ruge doesn't have anything very challenging to tell us. His argument is that the system in the DDR was rotten to the core, based on hypocrisy, toadyism and fear, and doomed to fail. I don't think anyone is going to challenge that: he has hindsight on his side, after all. It might have been interesting if he had made some effort to show us how the idealism and optimism fell away (in the same way that Mann shows us the subsequent generations of the Buddenbrooks family failing to live up to the impossibly high standards set by their parents and grandparents), but Ruge doesn't seem to be able to acknowledge that there ever was anything good in communism. Whether or not that's a valid historical proposition, it doesn't make for a very interesting narrative progression. At the end of the book, we are exactly where we were at the beginning (except that we have now understood that capitalism has some pretty serious flaws too, in case we didn't realise that...). ( )
  thorold | Jan 11, 2015 |
This novel started slowly for me, but gradually it lured me in and by the end I could hardly put it down. It tells the tale of four generations of a family in East Germany (the GDR) over 50 years from 1952 to 2001, but it does so by jumping back and forth in time, with different chapters set at different times and with each chapter told from the point of view of different characters.

The oldest members of the family are Charlotte and Wilhelm, who grew up in the pre-World War II era, who were involved in some way in Communist politics, and who fled?/were sent? to Mexico for a time. Charlotte is the mother of Kurt and his missing brother Werner. Kurt was in the Soviet Union for a time and was imprisoned in the Gulag in the Urals; when his sentence was changed to exile there, he met and married Irina, and eventually they were able to return to the GDR. Years later, they brought Irina's mother back from Slava in the Urals to live with them. Their son is Alexander/Sasha, who grows up, is drafted, marries, has a son of his own, Markus, but has trouble settling down or figuring out what he wants from life. Through these characters, the reader sees many of the changes taking place in the GDR, from Charlotte, who was raised by her mother to take the water off the stove just before the kettle started to whistle to save gas to Markus who smokes pot and takes Ecstasy.

The story starts in 2001, as Sasha, who has just learned he has inoperable cancer, goes to help take care of his now widowed father, Kurt, who has some kind of dementia. Then it switches to 1952, and Charlotte's perspective on her and Wilhelm's time in in Mexico, and then to the first of many chapters that take place on October 1, 1989, just before the fall of the Wall, when Wilhelm's 90th birthday is being celebrated. Over the course of the book, the reader sees this event from the point of view of many of the characters. Another recurring time is 2001 (just after the attacks on the World Trade Center), when Kurt travels to Mexico to retrace some of his grandmother's and Wilhelm's history and to find himself; all these chapters are told from Kurt's perspective.

There are many fascinating vignettes in this novel; perhaps my favorite was the story of how Irina got the apricots for the stuffing for her 1976 Christmas goose through a lengthy series of black market trades. Much of what happens in this novel is domestic rather than political; in fact, there is a focus on cooking and recipes at times, as well as on aging and challenging family relationships, and buried (or not so buried) resentments and hostilities. Nothing very dramatic happens. Eventually some secrets are revealed and some mysteries solved, but much remains opaque at the end, like real life. The reader becomes wrapped up in the story of this family and their times.

As a note, I found this book on display in one of my favorite bookstores (which is scheduled to close at the end of the year) and would probably have passed it over except for this quarter's Reading Globally theme read on postwar German writing. I'm glad I found it.
4 vote rebeccanyc | Nov 27, 2014 |
This novel follows the Umnitzer family, viewing life through the eyes of different family members.

This is not a feel good book, and the details of their life are potentially mundane and boring. However, these details underline the reality of life not only in the GDR, but generally such as ageing parents and the baggage of previous relationships. The book gradually pulls you in almost as though you are an extra family member helplessly watching.

Having read many non-fiction books on the GDR I feel it captures well the fossilisation of everyday life in the GDR and the challenges of unification.

I'd recommend very much reading The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker
by Mary Fulbrook for further insight into East German life. Details on the link below:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/940077.The_People_s_State ( )
  mancmilhist | Aug 28, 2014 |
I read Anna Funder's book, "Stasiland", a year or two back and rather expected this to be of the same informative, but rather depressing, order (not to imply anything about Anna Funder's excellence as a writer). But here we have a book in which East Germany is merely the context for a journey of discovery through four generations of a family. Brilliantly plotted and so well translated, we move forward and backward in time to view family events through different character's minds. The Table of Contents is useful for keeping track.
Of course, East Germany in the latter part of the 20th centre is no "mere" context. It shaped all who lived within it, as do all cultures. Therein lies the opportunity to reflect on one's own present cultural context. How am I shaped by it? ( )
  PhilipJHunt | Mar 2, 2014 |
In this book, we follow four generations of an East-German family between the 1950s and 2001. The storyline is not straightforward but cleverly goes back and forth to certain key-moments of the lives of the protagonists who all have their personality and their own private history that is affected by the society they are part of. Each character tells his side of the story and because certain events are told by different people, this gives an intriguing caleidoscopic result. Little by little, we get a sense of what this book is about, but the journey in itself is more than rewarding as well. I cannot tell much about the contents because it would spoil things for anyone who might want to read this fascinating book. It's startling, moving, humorous all at the same time. With all the time-changes and character-switching, this is not an easy book and it helps if you are somewhat familiar with (East-)German history. But if you're willing to put in the effort, it'll be very rewarding. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Nov 18, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Leser muss sich hineindenken
Der kühnen Romankonstruktion merkt man an, dass Ruge vom Theater kommt. Wenn sich, wie in einer Nummernrevue, den Vorhang scheinbar beliebig hebt und senkt, zielt der Kunstgriff in Wahrheit darauf, sich den Fesseln chronologischen Erzählens geschickt zu entziehen. Doch auch der Naturwissenschaftler schlägt in der Prosa durch. Ruge hat sich eine Struktur erschaffen, die den ausufernden Stoff, der sich zeitlich von den fünfziger Jahren bis 2001 erstreckt und geographisch von Russland bis Mexiko reicht, auf vierhundertdreißig Seiten fesselnd handhabbar macht.

„Natürlich sind die Geschichten in Wirklichkeit viel komplizierter als im Buch“, sagt Ruge fast entschuldigend. Und was er erzählt, zum Beispiel über die tatsächliche Agententätigkeit seines Stiefgroßvaters, bestätigt dies. Er habe sich zum disziplinierten Umgang mit dem Stoff zwingen müssen, „weil ich mich schnell langweile, wenn es ausufert, bei mir selbst genauso wie bei anderen Autoren“. Die Beschränkung, sein räumlich-strukturelles Denken, ist ein Erbe der Mathematik, das ihm die Freiheit verschafft hat, beim Erzählen Wesentliches wegzulassen. Natürlich ist das Buch ein Wende-Roman, aber die Wende und Ereignisse, die dazu führten, kommen gar nicht vor. Weil sie schon hundertfach erzählt worden seien, so Ruge. Auch der Westen wird ausgeblendet, und der Mauerbau taucht nur in einer Nebenbemerkung auf. Als Wilhelm vorschlägt, man solle die Sektorengrenze doch schließen, wird er von der Runde nachsichtig belächelt. Im nächsten Kapitel ist das Mauerwerk dann längst da. Dass der Leser sich in die Leerstellen hineindenken muss, gehört zu den Prinzipien des Romans...

„Ich hatte keine Wahl“
Literarisch lässt sich Ruge keiner Tradition zuordnen; Vorbilder interessieren ihn nicht. Aber eines fällt sofort auf: Anders als etwa Uwe Tellkamp in seinem großen DDR-Epos „Der Turm“ schreibt Ruge in einer klaren, nüchternen Sprache, deren höchstes Anliegen es ist, nicht selbst zu glänzen, sondern hinter den Gegenständen und Themen nahezu zu verschwinden. So nah zoomt sich diese Sprache an die Ereignisse heran, dass man meint, die Vorgänge sprächen für sich selbst. Der ästhetische Ansatz wird inhaltlich unterstützt, indem der Autor selbst möglichst auf jede Deutung seiner persönlichen Vergangenheit wie der Geschichte insgesamt verzichten möchte. So kommt man den Ereignissen und den Menschen in diesem Roman manchmal erschreckend nah – obwohl sie nicht zur Identifikation einladen, im Gegenteil. Auch Ruge hatte früher Zweifel, ob sich die Wirklichkeit, zumal die schwierigen Charaktere seiner Familie, überhaupt in Sprache abbilden lassen. Und auch heute noch ist er davon überzeugt, dass man nicht „realistisch“ erzählen kann, dass der Realismus der komplexen Wirklichkeit immer hinterherhinkt. Zum Glück hat er es trotzdem versucht.


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Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This expansive family saga, set against the backdrop of the collapse of East German communism, begins in September 2001 as Alexander Umnitzer, who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, leaves behind his ailing father to fly to Mexico, where his grandparents lived as exiles in the 1940s. The novel then takes us both forward and back in time, creating a panoramic view of the family's history: from Alexander's grandparents' return to the German Democratic Republic to build the socialist state, to his father's decade spent in a gulag for criticizing the Soviet regime, to his son's desire to leave the political struggles of the twentieth century in the past. With wisdom, humor, and empathy, Eugen Ruge draws on his own family history as he brings to life the tragic intertwining of politics, love, and family under the East German regime.--From publisher description.… (more)

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