Der geteilte Himmel - Christa Wolf
This is a book very much situated in its historical time, and in fact dates are stated constantly throughout. It never actually mentions the building of the Berlin Wall by name, but assumes that readers will know what the author is referring to when naming that date; the first human space flight is described, however. Apparently, in the summer of ’61, people were quietly convinced that war would break out at any moment. There seem to have been things going on within East Germany too, which I couldn’t figure out from the hints. Besides the story considering recent events, characters (as is appropriate to a Communist book) frequently debate history. Wolf pays attention, too, to the legacy of the Nazi era and the war. The feeling of living at a crucial time is hardly unique to East Germany in the early 60s, but Wolf vividly recalls what it was like to have that feeling there and then.

This provides the setting for a depiction of the troubles of the people of one train-manufacturing factory; their situation is not rosy, and their response to it not always wonderful; the worst side of human nature frequently comes to the fore. But principally, the novel is shaped around one love affair; the stresses seen everywhere, playing out in individual minds, ultimately drive Rita and Manfred apart. The protagonist, Rita, is the one whose responses to the times she lives in resonate the most with the author. Her determination to “live fully”, which means (among other things) engaging with trying to improve society around her, contrasts with Manfred’s detachment and drifting. The author agrees with Manfred’s perceptions of the serious problems the country has to deal with, but not with his despairing attitude to them.