Diary 1989

Original Title: Alkor

Hardcover with jacket, 608 pages, 13.5 x 21.0 cm, 5.3 x 8.3 in.
ISBN: 978-3-8135-2604-2
€ 29.00 [D] | € 29.90 [A] | CHF 40.90 * (* rec. retail price) recommended retail price

Publishing House: Knaus

Date of publication: September 5, 2001
This title is available.



Walter  Kempowski - Alkor


“1989 – the opening of a great memorial year: the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the war, the fortieth of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. And the year of my own sixtieth birthday.” This is the first entry in the diary kept by the writer, who could not tell at this point the dramatic turn the year was to take, changing the course of history for ever. Kempowski’s last entry for that year shows how the fall of the Wall surprised him. “What a year! An actual civil revolution on the bicentenary of the French Revolution itself. And we were there, we saw it and heard it – extraordinary!”

It began in the late summer of 1989, when the people first publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the regime of the Socialist Unity Party. With feverish activity, Kempowski traces the wave of emigration making its way slowly from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia to the West. He marvels at the restrained scepticism of the West German media when the first great mass demonstrations are held in Leipzig. And he notes, with distrust, the way in which the Socialist Unity Party tries to save its skin by exchanging Honecker for Krenz. But on 1 December leadership by the Socialist Unity Party is removed from the constitution, and a few days later Krenz stands down as Chairman of the Council of State. Kempowski feels that the opening of the Brandenburg Gate on 22 December 1989 is “like a dream”.
The political changes and debates of those days arouse in him painful memories of his own past, when he was branded an enemy of the state. In 1948 a Soviet military tribunal gave him a prison sentence of twenty-eight years, eight of which he served in Bautzen before he could emigrate to the West. His horror is all the greater when he realizes how many citizens are still in jail for their political convictions in December 1989.

Despite the dramatic events of contemporary history, Alkor is not confined to political observations. Kempowski’s curiosity and powers of description are also turned on everyday life and the microcosm of his idyllic surroundings in Nartum. In the “village novel” which runs right through the diary, Walter Kempowski once again shows his sense of the entertaining.
At the same time, Alkor provides fascinating insights into a major process of literary creation. 1989 was the year when work on Echolot [Echo Sounder] entered its crucial phase – Kempowski compares this unique enterprise with “an expedition into the unknown” which sometimes threatens to devour him. “All I know is that I must do this work.” Walter Kempowski’s private diary is thus an important complement to the “collective diary” of Echolot.

In addition, the personal entries add up to a multi-faceted picture for the reader of Kempowski, whose comments on his own adventures in reading – with Thomas Mann, Botho Strauss, Günter Grass, Stefan Heym, etc. – leave nothing to be desired in cogency. Finally, this diary also brings us close to Kempowski as an organist and passionate music-lover who finds in the compositions of the great masters something to counter the often painfully felt superficiality of the modern media, with which he has an ambivalent relationship.

Unlike many other great writers, Kempowski does not keep a diary as a subsidiary work. For the chronicler of the German bourgeoisie, who has always been a collector and worked with collage effects in his novels too, this is a particularly inspirational literary form. Political observations of the fall of the East German regime, reports of work in progress and humorous pictures of everyday life all cast light on each other in Alkor, leading us to the very centre of Kempowski’s creativity.


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