Academic journal article German Quarterly

Humor Satire, and Identity: Eastern German Literature in the 1990s

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Humor Satire, and Identity: Eastern German Literature in the 1990s

Article excerpt

Iwark, Jill E. Humor Satire, and Identity: Eastern German Literature in the 1990s. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007. 471 pp. euro98.00 hardcover.

In her book, Jill Twark observes a distinct trend in post-reunification German literature: East(ern) Germans deal with societal woes and problems of identity-reconstruction with a good sense of humor. Indeed, literature serves as a forum for the East(ern) German authors' reflections about the healing power of laughter and its ability to critique, to ventilate, and to reconcile. But Twark, in her conclusion, goes beyond an investigation of Eastern humor; she positions it in a wider German context. Ideally, her book will reach Eastern and Western German readers who will learn to laugh at their cultural differences and look at commonalities. Twark points at this approach as a "laughing with" rather than a "laughing at" each other.

On the basis of ten prose texts (Volker Braun, Der Wendehals; Ingo Schulze, Simple Storys; Kerstin Hensel, Gipshut; Jens Sparschuh, Der Zimmerspringbrunnen; Erich Loest, Katerfrühstück; Thomas Brussig, Helden wie wir; Thomas Rosenlöcher, Die Wiederentdeckungdes Gehens beim Wandern; Reinhard Ulbrich, Spur der Broiler; Bernd Schirmer, Schlehweins Giraffe; and Matthias Biskupek, Der Quotensachse) and an appendix of five interviews, Twark explores a spectrum of humorous strategies such as satire, parody, irony, the picaresque, the grotesque, and the absurd. It is her intention to provide an in-depth overview of this contemporary literary trend in the 1990s, and she does succeed.

One can hardly critique Twark's choice of well-known authors like Braun, Schulze, Hensel, Sparschuh, Loest, Brussig, and Rosenlöcher. Her discussion of prose works by lesser-known or regionally-known authors, however, might prove to be more of a strain than an enrichment to readers unfamiliar with the Eastern scene. Twark divides her book into four principal parts that outline techniques of survival, self-assertion, and identity-redefinition. In these parts, she investigates the various modes of humor that reflect the integration process: self-irony, the picaresque, the grotesque, and a genre which she calls ironic realism. …

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