Harry Josephine Giles - This is a bold and experimental work: a science-fiction verse-novel written in the Orkney dialect (with a parallel translation into English). The rich and varied cast weaves a compelling, lyric and effortlessly readable story around place and belonging, work and economy, generation and gender politics, love and desire

Harry Josephine Giles, Deep Wheel Orcadia, Picador, 2021.

Astrid is returning home from art school on Mars, looking for inspiration. Darling is fleeing a life that never fit, searching for somewhere to hide. They meet on Deep Wheel Orcadia, a distant space station struggling for survival as the pace of change threatens to leave the community behind.

Deep Wheel Orcadia is a magical first: a science-fiction verse-novel written in the Orkney dialect. This unique adventure in minority language poetry comes with a parallel translation into playful and vivid English, so the reader will miss no nuance of the original. The rich and varied cast weaves a compelling, lyric and effortlessly readable story around place and belonging, work and economy, generation and gender politics, love and desire – all with the lightness of touch, fluency and musicality one might expect of one the most talented poets to have emerged from Scotland in recent years. Hailing from Orkney, Harry Josephine Giles is widely known as a fine poet and spellbindingly original performer of their own work; Deep Wheel Orcadia now strikes out into audacious new space.

A symphony o yotuns, peedie suns and langships tae Mars, in Deep Wheel Orcadia Harry Josephine Giles hauds the starns in the loof o thier haun, terraformin new warlds in Scots. (A symphony of giants, miniature suns and longships to Mars, in Deep Wheel Orcadia Harry Josephine Giles holds the stars in the palm of their hand, terraforming new worlds in Scots.) - Matthew Fitt

Deep Wheel Orcadia is a mysterious and moving novel in verse about finding home in the farthest reaches. Giles lifts us to new worlds, in space and in language, we could never have imagined. A singular and numinous work. - Morgan M Page

I can't remember the last time I was this beguiled, this engrossed and this inspired by a book. It's like nothing else I've ever read. It was a joy to feel so entranced by the possibilities and complexities of each and every word. Harry Josephine Giles is a true original and a vital voice – don't miss this. - Kirsty Logan

This is a bold and experimental work. The fact about experiments is that sometimes – as with the famous Michelson-Morley experiment to prove the existence of “luminiferous aether” – they fail; but you learn something from the failure. There is much to admire in Giles’ work, and much that perhaps requires more scrutiny.

What genre is this work? The front cover says “A Novel”, the spine says it is part of Picador Poetry and the back of the book says it is a “verse novel”. This has always been an ambiguous and unclassifiable type of book. There is a difference between narrative poetry, such as Tennyson’s “Idylls Of The King” and Browning’s more elaborate “The Ring And The Book” or Arthur Clough’s “Amours de Voyage”. In recent times there has been a slight resurgence in this hybrid long form: for example, Les Murray’s Fredy Neptune, Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Vikram Seth’s ingenious novel-in-sonnets, The Golden Gate. But there is a persistent problem. Does a line exist for itself, or is it a mechanism to propel the narrative? If you want to tell a story, do you sacrifice the intricacy of the line?

Deep Wheel Orcadia does not quite square this particular circle. It is written in what the cover calls “the Orkney dialect” and the author calls “the Orkney tongue”. Each of the poems has a rendering in English beneath, and these are done with some aplomb. The idea of “translating” Scots into English, I think, begins with Robert Crawford’s joint collection with WN Herbert, Sharawaggi. It is a useful tool to clarify the distinctiveness of words. In Giles’ work, for example, the word “birl” or “birlan” is glossed as “whirlrushdancespinning”. Likewise, “unca” is put as “strangeweird” and “canny” is “skilledwisemagicalcautious”. I would think that most people with a passable grasp of Scots, in whatever form, would be able to negotiate these words swiftly. Indeed, with even more daring works, like Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange – let alone Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – the reader is somehow lulled into the word-scape. There is a political point being made in that the “English” is beneath the “Orcadian”, but it is not really so significant when I think of my Greek and Latin Loeb classics – English verso, original recto.

The linguistic dexterity is entertaining enough. Hugh MacDiarmid gloried in and was reviled for his “synthetic Scots” and this applies here. Although the book contains its own justification – “sheu hears thir vooels roondan, thir consonants clippan / thir wirds switchan” – and often English intrudes when the vocabulary is simply not there – “Ma coseen is wi a college / roon Alpha Centauri, wirkan / wi archives o 21st century / intertextual narrative” – the problematic part is the difference between phonology and orthography. Why do these space-Orcadians say (or write) “arkaeolojist” and “ruinaetion” rather than “archaeologist” or “ruination”, “taks” for “takes” or “injines” for “engines”? I can understand the use of dwam, smirr, watergaw, on-ding, hae for have gie for give, but I’ve never known anyone insist on “crampit, caald offiece” rather than “cramped, cold office”. It may make the lilt of the language more apparent, but it can seem like difference for the sake of difference.

And it is a novel. I have a deep love of science fiction and know my onions in this area. It is not bad, but the tropes are all quite well-worn – there are hulking wrecks of unknown origin, the harvesting of “Light”, spectral presences, the loneliness of space, a degree of gender fluidity. None of this is new. Iain M Banks ticked all those boxes some time ago. Caulking the narrative with a sense of Orkney and technology, which is indubitably a valid concern, does not give a great degree of depth to the story. There is a game I play with my nephews: describe Han Solo. They can. Describe Qui-Gon Jinn. Blank faces. The characters in Deep Wheel Orcadia lack substance, and worse, the reader probably couldn’t give a fig about what happens to them. They are puppets for pyrotechnics, and last as long. Compared to works like The Hair-Carpet Weavers by Eschbach or Alice B Sheldon’s Ten Thousand Light Years From Home or Arkday and Boris Strugatsky’s stories, this feels intellectually and emotionally thin.

At the same time, I received two small books by the aforementioned Robert Crawford, Classical Texts and Brexit Tears, with artwork from Calum Colvin. These are brilliantly pared down works, reminiscent in some ways of Ian Hamilton Finlay. They are lapidary and sarcastic, enigmatic and intense. One would not think that one could read a single word – such as Penelope – arranged on the page in such a way that one would re-read it. Then re-re-read it.

Giles is undoubtedly a writer of talent, but this first major work lacks direction – it, like the space station, is spinning in a static place. Scotland and innovative science fiction has a long history, from Lindsay’s A Voyage To Arcturus to Morgan’s From Glasgow To Saturn. It is admirable to try to follow in their footsteps, braver to forge out on one’s own. - Stuart Kelly


“Orkney has got one of the strongest speaking populations, but one of the smallest literatures of Scotland, compared to the literature in Doric or in Shetland, which are the other very strong speaking areas, or in Glaswegian, for that matter,” begins Harry Josephine Giles on the language of Deep Wheel Orcadia, the first full-length adult fiction book in the Orkney dialect to be published in over 50 years. “What there is tends to be preoccupied with things passing, with language struggling, with culture changing, and I was kind of dissatisfied with that as a theme. Not that that work isn’t good, but I wanted to push the language somewhere where it hadn’t been before.”

And she pushes it all the way into outer space.

The Deep Wheel Orcadia is a distant space station orbiting around a gas giant, struggling for survival as the pace of change threatens to leave the community behind. “I’m not the first person to do that,” she notes. “There’s a couple of other Scots science fiction novels. Matthew Fitt’s But n Ben A-Go-Go is the most well-known.

“I’ve always read science fiction and fantasy, speculative fiction more broadly. I think a lot of my earliest loves were in that field. For me, sci-fi is a mode that you can shift into and have some fun with. I was like, ‘I want to go into space – so let’s go!’”

Though rich with themes of place and belonging, work and economy, generational and gender politics that will be familiar to anyone who knows Harry Josephine Giles’ work, at the heart of Deep Wheel Orcadia is a love story, a tender romance between Astrid, returning home from art school on Mars, and Darling, an incomer fleeing a life that never fit.

“I was getting so carried away with my ideas and my concepts and my philosophies and the fun of the setting and all that, I was like, ‘oh wait I need a story!’ I needed an emotional story that mattered.

“Having a romance allowed me to express some themes of duality, and some themes of duality in myself. I’m somebody who’s from what, in Orkney, is called an incomer family. My family is from England, but I grew up in Orkney, I moved there when I was two, that’s the language and the world I grew up in. So, I’m always somebody from Orkney and somebody not from Orkney. Having these two central characters and having them be in a relationship was a way of looking at different aspects of myself and my relationship to place, bringing them together and bringing them in conflict.”

Written in the Orkney language, the novel comes with a playful English translation. “I wanted people to work to read the Orkney. I wanted people to think about the relationship between these two languages. What I wanted to do was minoritise the English and not let the English be transparent, not let it be easy, not let it be fluid. So it’s in prose, it’s in a smaller font, and then I use these compound words, which is a technique I borrowed from the Gaelic poet Rody Gorman. They provide little stumbling blocks that are also ways of actually thinking about a word and studying a word, and they slow down the reading, they continually draw people’s attention towards the Orkney. The technique was there in order to centre the Orkney and slow down the English, and once it was there I wanted to have fun with it.”

Deep Wheel Orcadia is made possible by the writers and educators who have fostered the thriving Scots scene we see today – supported by the likes of the Scots Language Publication grants – that continue to centre the various Scots dialects in this way.

“We’re in a renaissance, it’s great!” she says. “This is one of the strongest flourishings of Scots literature since the early 20th Century. I think that’s coming partly from the very hard work of people putting Scots in the education system that’s now coming to fruition. After a couple of centuries of very firm suppression of Scots in the education system, since the early 90s there’s actually been some support for it.

“The reason I’m writing in Scots is because my teacher was Simon Hall, who was interested in Orkney language and Orkney literature, and had done specific work in that and had taught Scots in the English classroom. When I was at school, that was only just coming in. Then, when I was a teenager, I went on a creative writing course in Moniack Mhor led by Matthew Fitt, who was one of the leading proponents of Scots in education. I had these encounters through the education system and, now I’m in my 30s, this is a book that I can write.”

And Deep Wheel Orcadia suggests a lasting legacy for the language, set in the far flung future, all the way in outer space. A renaissance indeed. - Michael Lee Richardson


In his essay “About 5750 Words” Samuel Delany proposes a model of science fiction that focuses on its specifically linguistic properties, on the way words in it refer to things that “have not happened. He gives the example of Heinlein’s phrase “the door dilated,” which he takes to be the first-ever appearance of the now-widespread concept of the iris door. In this sentence, he suggests, the meaning of “door” is at once immediately apparent to the reader, and yet radically different from any meaning it had before this sentence was written. The limits of our language are the limits of our world: once a door can dilate, no door is ever quite the same again. What this suggests is that science fiction is not just a matter of writing adventure stories, but of using language itself in radically transformative ways.

If so, this sort of linguistic transformation is a resource that has recently (say for the last 150 years) been, on the whole, overlooked by those soi-disant technicians of language, poets. This was not always the case: a lot of canonical poetic works are clearly speculative in nature. Paradise Lost is so spec-fic, it even includes a worldbuilding digression on the digestive systems of angels, who apparently don’t poop, but instead excrete unneeded food as gas through their pores in a sort of gentle continuous all-body fart. Fantastical poetry, however, has been out of fashion in the poetry world approximately since Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti. Admittedly, there has been a movement for self-consciously science fictional poetry at least since 1978, when the Science Fiction Poetry Association was founded, but mainstream poets and poetry publications have not taken it seriously. SF literary communities have been a little more hospitable (this publication, in particular, has an honorable and ongoing history of publishing SF poetry) but only, perhaps, a little.

There are reasons to hope this is changing. “Po-biz” is certainly starting to embrace some distinctly sci-fi lyric poetry by writers like Franny Choi or George Abraham. But what about the other end of the stick? Are sci-fi readers and publishers ready to pay attention to long sci-fi narratives written in verse? Recent examples, such as Oliver Langmead’s gripping Dark Star, or Alyse Knorr’s witty Copper Mother, have already suggested there are rewards for doing so. Harry Josephine Giles’s Deep Wheel Orcadia represents a brilliant addition to this list.

Deep Wheel Orcadia is being released by a major publisher in the UK, Picador, under their Picador Poetry imprint, but it is being billed as a verse novel. This is appropriate: in form the book bestrides lyric poetry (it is constructed as a series of short or medium-length poems) and novel (these poems form a continuous narrative). It certainly reads as compulsively as any sci-fi novel I have read in a while: I devoured it in a day, skipping out on other responsibilities, missing my stop on the train, all the clichés. At the same time, I want to argue, what is really electrifying about it is the way it does something distinctly science-fictional, not only at the levels of worldbuilding and plot, but at the level of language.

On the level of technical and political word-building, the book is interesting, but not startlingly original. Its location—a long-isolated backwater space station, with a distinct, insular culture, losing out to the development of newer trade routes and technologies, but about to be at the centre of a revolution no-one saw coming—is not unlike settings to be found in recent books by James S. A. Corey or Suzanne Palmer. As with all settings like this, it descends, directly or indirectly, from the massively influential work CJ Cherryh did in her Merchanter/Stationer novels in the 1980s and 1990s. It is, by now, a known quantity.

On the level of plot, something more unusual is happening. In its story of humans in an apparently empty universe coming into contact with something which may or may not be alien, but is certainly unknown, it could be argued that it resembles Ann Leckie or, again, James S. A. Corey. However, those writers, for all their beautiful characterization of individual characters and relationships, focus primarily on the galactic political and military struggles those lives are swept up into. By contrast, in Deep Wheel Orcadia, although the world is being turned upside down, this upheaval is not the focus of the plot. Instead the book’s central interest is in the characters’ day-to-day lives—their halting love affairs, their difficult family ties, their local political squabbles, their academic and artistic aspirations, their dances and conversations and daydreams.

One major success of Deep Wheel Orcadia, then, is that it pulls off the difficult feat of making us care even more about whether an errant daughter, back on a visit, decides to stay, or to return to the big cities of Mars, or about whether an archaeologist will kiss a bartender, than we do about what exactly is going on with all those mysterious space hulks out near the gas giant. How does it achieve this? Well, partly by having likeable characters and well-constructed plot arcs, of course. But also, much more unusually, through poetry. - Cat Fitzpatrick     Read more here

Harry Josephine Giles is an acclaimed poet and performer from Orkney, with two award nominated poetry collections to their name. Deep Wheel Orcadia (2021) is a science fiction verse novel written in the Orkney dialect. The poem is technically dazzling, showing Giles’ masterful command of both their chosen dialect and the form of poetry. But it is so much more than an impressive technical exercise. It is a tender queer romance, an exploration of gender and sexuality and how they operate within society, a compelling space opera that draws on the history of Giles’ home in the Orkney Islands. The language is rich and beautiful, rolling off the page, and Giles imbues their characters with depth and humanity. Giles’ book is remarkable, an ambitious melding of language and poetry, speculation and tradition, that creates something beautiful and altogether new.

Deep Wheel Orcadia is the first full-length work of adult fiction published in the Orkney language for over fifty years. This is a landmark in the history of a minority language in danger of disappearing. However the modern reader need not fear that this will prevent them from understanding the book. The poem is printed in Orkney dialect with the English translation alongside it – as I have quoted above. This allows Giles to make sure that all the nuances and double meanings of the Orkney words are there for the reader to see, so that the reader can enjoy the musicality of Giles’ poetry and the Orkney dialect and not miss out on any of the subtleties.

Deep Wheel Orcadia tells the story of the chance meeting and romance between two women. Astrid grew up on the space station Deep Wheel Orcadia, but left to study art on Mars. She has returned looking for inspiration. Darling is a trans woman who has escaped from the restrictive life expected of her from her rich fathers. The two of them meet on Deep Wheel Orcadia and enter into a passionate romance. All this happens against the backdrop of life on the station, which was set up to mine Light around a gas giant, but as the Light depletes and the attention of the rest of the galaxy shifts elsewhere, the way of life the inhabitants have set up for themselves and cherished over generations is under threat. Meanwhile the wreckages of vanished alien civilisations that bring teams of archaeologists to the station may not easily give up their secrets, but something strange is making itself felt across the station.

The poem is told in various different sections, changing in meter, length, tone and rhythm, as Giles adapts the mood of the poem to match the scene they are describing. Across the whole poem, they display a masterful command of language, creating moments of hallucinatory vivid imagery, intimate character interactions, and dramatic space opera sequences with equal aplomb. Giles’ skill at drawing characters and exploring the relationships between them, and their love of the Orkney dialect, means that what could become merely an impressive intellectual exercise never loses its warmth or humanity. The poem features a wide cast of compelling and believable characters, from the central protagonists Astrid and Darling, through to the station’s various inhabitants. There’s Inga and Øyvind, Astrid’s parents, a lightning ship captain and meat technician respectively, Noor the xeno-archaeologist, drawn by the alien wreckages to the station, Eynar, the landlord of a local pub who’s thinking of retiring. Giles brings to life a whole community, built on the way of life shaped by the station and tradition. Whilst Deep Wheel Orcadia operates as a metaphor for the Orkney Islands and their disappearing way of life, the story also functions as exciting space opera, and the themes of conflict between generations driven by decisions to stay and respect traditions or to forge new ways of life are universal.

At the centre of Deep Wheel Orcadia is the romance between Astrid and Darling, which is handled with a wonderful sensitivity. Astrid and Darling are two young people who have come to two very different crossroads in their own lives, who instantly fall for each other but have the same difficulties communicating that everyday people do. Will their love be able to weather the drastic changes coming to the station? Giles explores how Astrid and Darling both need very different things from each other at this stage in their lives, and the poem follows their attempts to overcome these difficulties. They are adept at capturing the heady rush of infatuation and early love, as well as the frustration of being unable to communicate with someone you care deeply about and the pain of people moving in different directions. Deep Wheel Orcadia is a thoroughly unusual prospect, but it’s a fantastic example of how poetry can enrich genre fiction, and Giles is clearly a hugely talented poet at the peak of their powers. It is a bold experiment which more than pays off. - Jonathan Thornton


‘Deep Wheel Orcadia’ is a first book written in Orkney dialect (or Orcadian) in over fifty years. However, please do not feel discouraged by this notion, as there is a translation provided. As a person living in Orkney (but not coming from Orkney), I was grateful for the translation, but as I got into the swing of reading the original, I felt I needed the translation less and less.

‘Deep Wheel Orcadia’ is a set of linked poems, which read more like a prose, each telling a story of a particular character from the book. There are many characters to get to grips with, and I found myself reverting to the list of people, or ‘The Fock’ quite often, especially at the beginning. They share in common that they all reside in Deep Wheel Orcadia – a Northern space station closest to the galactic centre, and they are all facing adversity.

The book is split into three parts, and in the first one, there is a clear portrayal of a struggling community: people working to make ends meet and food being scarce, while on the other hand, some searching for their identity and their place in the world.

The reader meets Astrid, who left Orcadia for Mars eight years previously to study Art and is now back in search for inspiration for her artwork. She meets a newcomer from Mars, Darling, who is described as ‘taall’ and ‘pael’ with ‘reid hair’ (tall and pale with red hair). Eventually the two women meet and spend the night together. In amongst all this, people begin to notice a strange apparition of an older man wearing a helmet (perhaps a soldier?) whose face is contorted in a silent shriek. What does it mean? Is the community in danger?

As I was reading the book, I noticed parallels between the Orcadia and Orkney as it is now. Giles portrays a tight knit community, where news spread quickly and where people are working in the boat and food industry. It rings true, as Orkney relies on their farming and fishing trade. Plus, we do like to ‘ken’ (know) what’s going on around us. That is what makes Orkney unique.

Furthermore, Giles writes that energy in Deep Wheel Orcadia is expensive, even though it’s produced there. I immediately thought of fuel poverty and its shocking high levels in Orkney: we produce 120% of our energy needs through renewables, and yet many have to choose between ‘eating or heating’ (source: The Orkney News). Another parallel I discovered was slow internet speed in Giles’ Orcadia – also very true for Orkney.

Another similarity is the ‘Harvest Home’ dance. In Deep Wheel Orcadia, we see the characters preparing for it, practising the steps beforehand, and there is a sense of community spirit. This was probably my favourite poem in the book, and it’s its longest, standing at 15 pages long. In the past, Harvest Home was a huge event, celebrating the end of harvest. The tradition was to have a meal first, followed by music and dancing (source: The Orkney News). It is still celebrated today, however on a smaller scale, as many events are cancelled because of low numbers of participants.

Overall, this is a beautifully written book. I loved the poetic nature of its verses. Saying that, I felt there were far too many characters to form a connection with any of them – maybe that was the purpose, but for me, when I am reading a story, I like to feel some sort of emotional inkling. Also, the book doesn’t really have a proper ending. Again, that also could have been done purposely, but I felt as if the characters were just abandoned somewhere in space, circling the orbit. - Monika Armet


Brigitte Reimann - one of the highlights of East German fiction. Franziska is constantly seeking out -- experience and understanding. But there's also an astute constant reckoning, with everything, at every turn. Emotional and even capricious, Franziska is remarkably self-confident


Brigitte Reimann, Franziska Linkerhand, 1974/1998

Franziska Linkerhand is narrated with a penetrating intensity by the eponymous narrator, the voice shifting constantly and easily back and forth between the first person and the third, as Franziska Linkerhand writes both deeply personally (in the first person) and also from a more distant and coolly analytic perspective (in the third person) -- an effective technique. The shifts in voice are not systematic -- chapter by chapter or anything like that -- but rather flow back and forth into each other; the same goes for time, as the novel is presented roughly chronologically but also shifts back and forth, past mixing in constantly with present-day (as well as a dose of looking ahead: "Ich sehe sie nur unscharf, die sieben oder zehn Jahre ältere Frau, die meinen Namen trägt, aber ich kann sie als stumme Figur einsetzen und mitspielen lassen" ('I see her only indistinctly, that woman, seven or ten years older, who bears my name, but I can bring her in to play along as a silent figure') she imagines at one point, already anticipatorily: 'curious, what she experienced in those seven or ten years'). Her boss observes (or complains) -- accurately --: "Sie wollen alles, und Sie wollen alles sofort" ('You want everything, and you want everything immediately') and this attribute also colors the entire narrative, which seems, at every turn, to want to capture and convey everything at once, constantly (yes, giving it a somewhat exhausting quality).

Franziska Linkerhand is autobiographically-tinged, with Franziska slightly younger than the author, and dedicating herself to architecture rather than writing (although Reimann's own self comes through so strongly that Franziska too can't keep herself from trying to write as well). Franziska grows up in a genteel upper middle-class household, her father a publisher and she very bookish from a young age. The novel begins with a young Franziska and the collapse of Germany at the end of the Second World War; among the memorable experiences are those of a neighbor family's murder-suicide as the Russians close in -- Franziska remembering seeing the bodies lying there (and later uncertain whether she had actually glimpsed them (before being pulled away by her much older brother), or just imagined seeing them from the accounts she picked up around her).

The family manages reasonably well in the early days of the German Democratic Republic -- with infusions from holdings in the other Germany -- but her parents struggle with the collapse of the world as they know it; eventually they flee to the west, unable and uninterested in the building of a new society -- a programme Franziska, on the other hand, can believe in. Though the parents are largely distant figures, they certainly shaped Franziska; while always strong-willed, she was nevertheless formed under her mother's very strong hand -- and received a strong grounding in European culture, especially music and literature, in growing up in that environment. So also, for example, in later years, as the political divide increases, her father doesn't talk politics with her, but rather 'only about books, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne and Saint-Beuve'.

Franziska marries very young -- an escape, too, from the in many ways stifling home atmosphere --, but the marriage doesn't stand a chance, the class differences between her and Wolfgang simply too great. He's never even read a book, and admits that when he tries to, as a favor to her, he falls asleep after two pages; the chasm between intellectual Franziska and worker Wolfgang is too deep to ever be bridged.

Franziska studies architecture, her mentor the highly regarded Reger, who takes her under his wing -- but she insists on going her own way. She chooses not to continue assisting with the prestigious commissions Reger is involved with and instead takes a posting in the appropriately named Neustadt ('New City'), a new city being built from the ground up, a grand, large-scale urban-planning project. (Neustadt is a thinly-veiled Hoyerswerda, where Reimann also went to work.) She is met there by another representative of the old-style guard -- but it turns out it is his last day there; the new boss is the young father of four Schafheutlin, temperamentally ill-suited for a leadership position. Typically, too, despite the nature of the project he heads, he does not live on-site, but rather in a house an hour away (for the kids' sake, of course ...).

Schafheutlin isn't happy to have to deal with a (prize) student of the legendary Reger's -- his own experiences with the master were not the best, either -- but Franziska immerses herself with a passion in her work. She is completely on board with the programme, wanting the project to succeed -- though it does wear on her that she is given tasks that could easily be accomplished by someone with less training, as her own talents are clearly being wasted here. Nevertheless, she is as pro-active as she can be -- setting up an office to help new tenants furnish their homes, for example -- and a somewhat friendlier relationship with Schafheutlin eventually develops.

Franziska's zest for life is extreme; she is impetuous and passionate, and doesn't hold back, in word or deed. As the novel's opening makes clear, her passion is also very much of the physical sort -- the first sentence of the novel:

Ach Ben, Ben, wo bist du vor einem Jahr gewesen, wo vor drei Jahren ?

[Oh, Ben, Ben, where were you a year ago, three years ago ?]

She is fairly uninhibited, drawn to men -- and almost always full of great longing. Ben, as she calls the man she comes to know in Neustadt, is the ideal she reaches for, but there are other men along the way -- not least her protective brother, a nuclear scientist, who, however, is only an occasional visitor. Ben is, or tries to be, a writer -- writing a novel (or rather: 'what we are calling a novel, provisionally') -- and eventually recounting his prison experiences in the wake of the 1956 events in Hungary, part of the general disillusioning with the system that Franziska encounters.

When originally published in 1974, parts of Franziska Linkerhand were cut and edited -- notably the mentions and discussion of suicide, something that comes to the fore as the story progresses and that troubles Franziska. She learns that there are two suicides or suicide attempts weekly in Neustadt -- a sad reflection on this place that she wants to see as a city of hope and the future. (So too she is shocked when there is a rape in the city, something she had thought (or at least hoped) inconceivable in this new world order.)

Reger's warning words when she announces her plans to work in Neustadt -- "Sie sind erledigt, Dame. Wer sich in die Provinz begibt, kommt darin um" ('You're done for, madam. He who goes into the provinces will perish there') -- come to take on a whole new meaning. Franziska is such a strong and strong-willed character that she can not be crushed by events and experiences, but she sees the heavy toll around her. She is an optimist, who tries to make the best of things and manages mostly very carefreely, but she is also hyperaware of her surroundings and those around her, as Franziska Linkerhand is intensely penetrating, to an almost unbearable degree.

Franziska Linkerhand is a novel one can call staggering, not least in its breadth and depth, weight and range -- and its driven narrator. At one point Franziska admits that:

Mein Bruder sagt, ich bin neugierig wie ein Affe: Lauf und sieh, was es Neues gibt.

[My brother says that I am as curious as a monkey: run and see what's new.]

Franziska is constantly seeking out -- experience and understanding. But there's also an astute constant reckoning, with everything, at every turn. Emotional and even capricious, Franziska is remarkably self-confident; she is aware of her many faults, of character and actions, but she hardly ever harbors any real doubt -- and she always propels herself forward. She's sharply observant and gets to the quick -- not least in her self-examination. It's a remarkable performance - breathless and dense, too, but almost always (and constantly) also deeply engrossing.

Franziska Linkerhand is also an unfinished novel, though not an unpolished one. Arguably, much of it is almost over-polished -- though that also makes the short final chapter all the more melancholily effective, a last breath of sorts, too.

Franziska Linkerhand is one of the highlights of East German fiction -- and all the more powerful in its uncut version, finally published in 1998. And, oh, what an incredible talent Reimann was, a terrible loss to German literature that she died so young. - M.A.Orthofer


Brigitte Reimann, I Have No Regrets: Diaries,

1955-1963, Trans. by Lucy Jones, Seagull Books,


I enjoyed success too early, married the wrong man, and hung out with the wrong people; too many men have liked me, and I’ve liked too many men.

Frank and refreshing, Brigitte Reimann’s collected diaries provide a candid account of life in socialist Germany. With an upbeat tempo and amusing tone, I Have No Regrets contains detailed accounts of the author’s love affairs, daily life, writing, and reflections. Like the heroines in her stories, Reimann was impetuous and outspoken, addressing issues and sensibilities otherwise repressed in the era of the German Democratic Republic. She followed the state’s call for artists to leave their ivory towers and engage with the people, moving to the new town of Hoyerswerda to work part-time at a nearby industrial plant and run writing classes for the workers. Her diaries and letters provide a fascinating parallel to her fictional writing. By turns shocking, passionate, unflinching, and bitter—but above all life-affirming—they offer an unparalleled insight into what life was like during the first decades of the GDR.

“Reimann left behind a string of novels and several years’ worth of diaries that shed vivid light on life in East Germany from the 1950s to the 1970s. This volume picks up her story shortly after a suicide attempt following a miscarriage.” - Charlie Connelly

"Her diary entries are interesting reading, not only for those interested in knowing more about Reimann, but as documents of events and personalities involved in the literary history of the first decades of the GDR." - Judith H. Cox

"(A) welcome introduction to Reimann's work. (...) There is passionate self-reflection, political insight and a fierce commitment to the art of fiction on practically every page" - Ian Ellison, Times Literary Supplement

Anna Seghers, already an established writer with an international reputation before the founding of the German Democratic Republic, was very much the grande dame of literature in East Germany, but the generation that followed her included some of the most significant German writers of the second half of the twentieth century, notably the trio of women novelist Christa Wolf (1929-2011), Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990), and Brigitte Reimann (1933-1973). Wolf is well-translated into English (and many other languages), and by Morgner we at least have one of the great post-war German novels, The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura, but Reimann's fiction remains untranslated into English (and under-translated into most other languages, save Spanish and the languages of the former Communist bloc), despite an impressive body of work that includes one landmark novel (the seminal Ankunft im Alltag (1961; 'Arriving in Everyday Life')) and one masterpiece, the posthumously published Franziska Linkerhand (1974).

With the publication of her diaries and much of her correspondence (including a volume of letters to and from Christa Wolf), Reimann -- a shooting star in the GDR, who enjoyed both critical and popular success there from a young age -- has had somewhat of a renaissance in Germany over the past two decades; it's unclear whether this is the best volume with which to introduce her to English-speaking readers (as opposed to her actual fiction ...), but it does at least give a good sense of the woman, and of the East German situation and conditions in which she worked (and, while often critical of these, it should be noted that she remained generally supportive, working within rather than in opposition to the system, certainly in the years covered here, and did not seriously entertain the thought of, for example, going abroad, to the other Germany (as one close family member, her brother ("a muddle-head") Lutz, did)). These diaries do, however, certainly reveal and display her fundamental forthrightness, which similarly marked her fiction, making for an unvarnished picture of life in the workers' state that, in its focus on the essential-human, nevertheless doesn't neatly fit the picture readers might expect. (Indeed, one (main) reason her work was underestimated in the Federal Republic during her lifetime (and for some time after) surely was because this was an unfamiliar, much more intimate-personal approach to political writing (indeed, an expansion of the concept) than West German readers could conceive of, a different take than the then-(completely-)prevailing intellectualized-theoretical (on the one hand) or (all too explicitly) socialist realist (on the other) ones.)

The diaries cover the years 1955 to 1963. Reimann was still very young when they begin -- she had just turned 22 a bit over a month earlier -- and unfortunately these are the earliest surviving parts of the record: in 1959 (as she notes here) she burnt her diaries from 1947 to 1953 ("all 20 of them [...] I've burnt my childhood, my youth, and all the memories I don't want to recall any more"); briefly she holds back more recent ones:

I've only kept the last ones from '53 on, at least for now. Even though they contain the dirtiest and unhappiest chapters: my doubt and desperation about our cause, my first steps as a writer, my marriage to Günter, objections to his drinking, my adultery and sickening, deceptive maneuverings, decadence and tedium, misplaced illusions, nights spent agonizing over books never published, weeks and months spent in perpetual drunkenness, waking up in strangers' beds -- quandaries, wrong turns, mistakes, cheap ways of getting high ...

The respite is only temporary (albeit also only partial):

I've just decided to throw away the books from '53-'54 after all. Love stories from an overstretched imagination, away with it all !

Still, she held onto four years worth of diaries, from 1955 on to that point -- covering also much of the activity she describes. Gone, however, are also the accounts of important markers left unmentioned in what she is ridding herself of: two years spent as a teacher and -- surely more significantly -- the January 1954 (essentially still)birth of a child, and her subsequent suicide attempt. And while she later does repeatedly long for a child of her own, this past is never delved into at all closely in the pages of the surviving diary (as published) -- a closed book.

The burning of the older diaries leads to the then-still-just-twenty-six-year-old summing up well enough:

I enjoyed success too early, married the wrong man, and hung out with the wrong people; too many men have liked me, and I've liked too many men.

Men do figure prominently, beginning with first husband Günter Domnik; the diaries only cover the period to 1963, but in that period she will already have married her second husband and fallen in love with the man who would go on to be her third. Reimann was quick to fall passionately in love -- an occurrence so frequent that she refers to her: "many three-day loves", raptures that were inevitably reciprocated by the men taken by the apparently completely bewitching beauty. She feels some Catholic guilt, but on the whole can't seem to help herself -- and there seems to be at least a playful note of pride in her observation that: "Wherever I am, I cause disturbance, mayhem and trouble". She claims some shyness -- and occasionally admits to being in overwhelmed awe (such as when she encounters Anna Seghers) -- but clearly can and does effortlessly wrap men around her little finger; we only get her perspective here, but in this like practically all other regards there doesn't seem to be much dissembling.

The opening entry, from August, 1955, marks a small new beginning, Reimann explaining that she and husband Günter have broken up -- and that she has to start a new diary because he took the old one ("He wants to use it against me in the divorce"); although she gets the older diaries back, she does -- as noted -- eventually destroy them all up to this point, so clearly she sees this as turning point. The collapse of her marriage and break from her husband would seem to be an appropriate cæsura -- but in fact it's not quite as hard and complete as initially suggested: the marriage putters on, in some form, for a while: "Günter still comes, and I can't always refuse him", and when he is arrested in late 1957 for "resisting state authority" (he beat up a policeman) and she vows to herself that for the six months he gets sentenced : "I won't cheat on him. I can bear being without a man" (spoiler: she can't). She meets Siegfried Pitschmann -- "one of these people who'll end up committing suicide or going insane, I'm sure. And what a mighty talent !" --, the man who would go on to become her second husband, and it is only after Günter is released from prison that she really breaks from him, some three years into this diary -- though at that point he has some difficulties letting go.

Somewhat confusingly, Reimann generally refers to Siegfried as Daniel (or Dan) -- having decided that: "that awful young hero's name Siegfried doesn't suit this sensitive, tender, almost fragile Daniel at all". He is also a writer, and the two of them live the struggling-artist life together, eventually getting married and moving to the rapidly expanding industrial town of Hoyerswerda, where they both had positions as sorts of writers-in-residence, actively taking part in industrial work, but also providing education for their fellow workers while giving them some time to write.

Reimann and Siegfried/Daniel's relationship is passionate but difficult, as Reimann is easily led to stray. She acknowledges her (flesh-)weakness -- indeed, her diaries get her in trouble again as Siegfried reads them (even after she has said she has gone to pains to hide them ...) -- but also seems sincere about her deep feelings for Siegfried -- and, often, for the others ..... At one point she explains:

I just like being adored, or even loved; I need to feel validated, that's almost all it's about.

But that doesn't seem entirely accurate; validation is important to her -- in her writing, as well -- but she's also very confident, about both her abilities and, generally, herself. Still, she expresses annoyance at being a lust-object:

I'm damned never to find friendship because of my gender; men are incapable of separating body from soul. Not one of them understands that I want to be loved for my intelligence, my talent or, to use that word again, my soul.

The relationships she describes, however, suggest she's wrong: men seem quite obviously attracted to her for those very qualities, and a fierce independent streak. Beyond that, she seems equally incapable of separating body and soul as she falls into one passionate affair after another. One occasion where she turns the man away leads to some introspection, pointing towards some of her confusions:

Kaufmann tried to seduce me (God that makes it sound as if I'm a shocked seventeen-year-old kid). Okay, he wanted to sleep with me. [...] He tried it on and, what the hell, has something to offer -- a man if ever there was one. Now he sits there, shaking his head, looks at me and doesn't understand what's going on. I don't either by the way. It would definitely have been a pleasure with him and it did me good to hear his endearments, and I returned his kisses, but I can't go any further. [...] An aroused man brings on a physical aversion, something close to disgust; I'm turned on, yes, but repelled at the same time, and in a flash I'm sober and very clear-sighted, and then I lash out, and they stand there, troubled and disappointed, and think I'm abnormal and say that I'm not a real woman. The path to these affections that I open up -- not always innocently -- is only ever through a meeting of minds, work, conversation, never just physical attraction.

Interestingly, for someone who sleeps around so much, Reimann doesn't make particularly much out of sex itself; it's only in late 1963, for example, that she specifically mentions a deeper physical pleasure: "I have discovered my body and the bliss of physical love with Jon" (whom she left Siegfried for, and who would become husband number three)

As intense as her relationships -- both the brief and the more extended ones -- are, Reimann throws herself into her work with similar abandon (and at one point insists: "Work is the only thing that counts"). In 1956 already -- she's just twenty-three -- she notes:

On the outside, everything's going as well as it possibly could. I have a good husband, have a book published, have contracts for new books, have money, have a comfy room, and I have the looks (and can dress) that I have men aplenty -- for a day or a week or longer, whatever takes my fancy. But in truth ? My ambition is unstoppable, I want to write good books, have fame -- will I ever have it ? [...] I'm deeply unhappy.

So too, at the beginning of this diary -- and to differentiate it from the earlier ones ? -- she explains:

This diary is not dedicated to my adulterous escapades; it's not about love and liaisons -- I want to record whatever happens to me on my journey to becoming a writer. Yes, I write -- some already refer to me as a writer -- but inside I feel I'm a dead loss, a literary nobody; I want to write good things, to work, to dedicate my whole life to this one aim; to help people through literature, and fulfil my duties, the duties we share towards the rest of humanity.

Reimann does seem to believe in the experiment that the GDR appeared to be, and the role of the artist in it -- even if she is repeatedly disappointed by the prevailing conservatism. When her brother Lutz takes his family to West Germany in 1960 she wonders:

Families torn apart, conflicts between brothers and sister -- what a literary subject ! Why doesn't anyone tackle it, why doesn't anyone write a topical book ? Fear ? Inability ? I don't know.

East Germany took culture and culture-in-the-workplace seriously, and Reimann was active in this both on the local and then national level -- though enthusiasm among writers seems to have sometimes been limited, as she describes when she settled in in Hoyerswerda: "Last week, the worker writers' circle was set up. Of the twenty invited, only four turned up; none with any potential, I imagine". Amusingly -- and demonstrating her sharp eye -- Reimann in this instance doesn't dismiss all the would-be writers that show up after all:

Only little Volker Braun, who got his school-leaving certificate and then worked on the factory floor for four years, seems to be gifted. He reminds me of my Ulli-brother -- in every respect a late developer.

The 'late developer' Braun (Rubble Flora, etc.) would, of course, go on to become one of the leading German poets (and a significant writer of prose as well) -- and is still publishing, almost sixty years (!) after Reimann wrote this. - M.A.Orthofer   Read more here

Brigitte Reimann was an East German writer and an avid chronicler of her own life through her diaries. In this new book we follow her as she becomes a successful writer, but at a turbulent time for her and the GDR in the years between 1955 and 1963.

Reimann was like many people in their 20s; too much drink, too many men, and too much doubt about her future as a writer. The diaries are unusual for this period in detailing her affairs with numerous men. It seems a very modern book in that sense – reflecting a present day obsession (now played out in social media) with the importance of self. She says “The diary is not dedicated to my adulterous escapades; it’s not about love and liaisons – I want to record whatever happens to me on my journey to becoming a writer.”

But self and navel gazing was not what was expected of writers by the GDR state. Reimann knew this, and in the diary says, . “I want to dedicate my whole life to this one aim;to help people through literature, and fulfil my duties, the duties we share with humanity”.

Her first two books were rejected by the publishers on the grounds they were counter revolutionary, decadent, morbid, bizarre and this took a toll on Reimann. “It was a damned hard blow, and it took me a long time to recover.”

Reimann was regularly visited by the Stasi. She had spoken up for writers who had been persecuted by the State and was not surprised when they turned up at her door. Forced to sign a statement of secrecy and adopt the code name “Caterine”, she agreed to pass on “legitimate complaints about errors and inadequacies to the Stasi so they can take remedial action.” Reimann refused to name names, but she still believed in the socialist state. “When compared with capitalism, it represents a higher development, a progression of mankind.”

But when her husband is imprisoned she has to call on the Stasi for help, whilst knowing that there will be a price to be paid. It is not clear from the diaries what this is, as she continues to rail against the authorities and is given a job working in a refinery, as well as being a writer in residence.

With her second husband, Daniel, Reimann moves to Hoyerswerda, a new town, to take up their jobs in the refinery. They are expected to work in the laboratory, as well as taking on responsibility for a group of workers in a workers writers’ circle. She says; “The plant is starting to squeeze their money’s worth out of them. We’ve been reading manuscripts, giving receptions for writing workers, having hour long discussions; now we’re style-editing a brochure.” This is on top of working on the shop floor, including grinding valves which seems to bring her more satisfaction. “Felt wonderfully strong in overalls and with dirty hands-a new feeling, slightly exuberant.”

Reimann confesses to being “middle class”, no doubt brought on by working side by side with manual workers. Inspired by her time there she writes a classic of socialist realism Arrival in Everyday Life, the story of three young people who postpone their studies to work in a plant in Hoyerswerda.

But her successful career is dominated by the politics of the Cold War. Her brother escapes the country, the Wall goes up, and the political atmosphere for writers depresses Reimann. The diaries are revealing for her continued affairs with men and her failed marriages – she marries four times – excessive drinking and much personal unhappiness. She died in 1973 of cancer, aged just 40.

My copy of I Have No Regrets did not include an introduction, and so I do not know who agreed to publish the diaries. Maybe they should have been edited as I did feel the reader was given too much information about her love life. I felt sorry for her that she had no close female friend with whom she could have shared the doubts and depressions of her life. Reading the diaries without being able to read Reimann’s novels is also a problem and hopefully the publishers will now consider publishing them. - lipstick socialist


Edith Piaf, whose celebrated anthem the title of this book evokes, died in the same year that Brigitte Reimann’s diaries end. While this of course is coincidental, reading these diaries does leave one with the impression that the singer’s vivacity, passion and pragmatism have been expressed by a writer. Almost every day when Reimann wakes up (often after a night of heavy drinking), when she starts on a new writing project or a new diary entry, or when a new man enters her life, she sweeps away her past. In November 1959, she records how she burnt her earlier diaries, spanning 1947 to 1953. I Have No Regrets contains no mention of the premature birth and death of her child in 1954 or Reimann’s subsequent suicide attempt. It does, on the other hand, contain many fresh starts.

In a letter to Reimann in February 1969, Christa Wolf, approaching her fortieth birthday and wondering whether their generation of East German writers would ever finish the work they set out to do, asks “What have we done by the time we reach forty? My goodness, there’s no sugar-coating it … Who will ask about us later?” Not only is this a tragically prescient question given Reimann’s death from cancer just a few years later, in 1973, at the age of thirty-nine; it also prefigures her relative lack of international renown today. Her work deserves a much wider reading public outside Germany, where she remains best known for her ambiguously autobiographical final novel Franziska Linkerhand. Unfinished on her death, this anarchic and assertive book was nonetheless published in censored form the following year, then in full in 1998. As recently as January 2019 it was newly adapted for the stage at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. In spite of Reimann’s early death, she left behind fourteen works that were published between 1953 and 1974 as well as two unfinished novels published in one volume entitled Das Mädchen auf der Lotusblume (“The girl on the lotus flower”) in 2003 (none are currently available in English). The eight years of irregular diary entries that make up I Have No Regrets, edited in German by Angela Drescher and now translated into English by Lucy Jones, are a welcome introduction to Reimann’s work.

We begin with an entry composed in her hometown of Burg bei Magdeburg in the former GDR after the dog days of… - Ian Ellison


Brigitte Reimann, It All Tastes of Farewell:

Diaries, 1964–1970, Trans. by Steph

Morris, Seagull Books; New ed., 2021

It All Tastes of Farewell is a frank account of one woman’s life and loves in 1960s East Germany. As a writer, Brigitte Reimann could not help but tell a compelling story, and that is born out here in her diaries, which are gripping as any novel. She recorded only what mattered: telling details, emotional truths, and political realities. Never written for publication and first published in full in German only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, these diaries offer a unique record of what it felt like to live in a country that no longer exists, was represented for years largely through Cold War propaganda, and is still portrayed in fairy-tale Stasi dramas. Here we get a sense of lived experience, as if Doris Lessing or Edna O’Brien had been allowed in with their notebooks. This volume continues where her earlier book of diaries, I Have No Regrets, left off, in 1964. It sees Reimann grow wistful and at times bitter, as her love life, her professional life, and her health all suffer. Yet throughout she retains a lively appetite for new experiences and a dedication to writing. Finally she finds security in a surprising new love, and although she died soon after this volume ends, the novel she was writing was to become a much-read cult hit after her death.

A remarkable document from a time and place that we still struggle to see clearly, It All Tastes of Farewell is unforgettable, a last gift from an essential writer.

It All Tastes of Farewell is the second volume of Brigitte Reimann's diaries, following on I Have No Regrets and covering the years 1964 to 1970. The focus here is on her slow progress with her novel Franziska Linkerhand -- a novel that was then only published posthumously, in 1974 (and unabridged only in 1998; it has still not been translated into English) -- while her personal life remains tumultuous: another marriage (to Hans Kerschek, called Jon here) goes south here, and by the end of these diaries she is preparing for her fourth marriage, to Dr. Rudolf Burgartz (ten years her junior), and increasingly debilitated by the cancer that would kill her, aged only thirty-nine, in 1973. It is also a time of political change in the German Democratic Republic, any hope for a continuing turn towards liberalization already dim by the mid-1960s and finally completely dashed by the Prague Spring.

Reimann is well-settled in the model city of Hoyerswerda at the beginning of these diaries, but much of the strain on her marriage certainly comes from her husband often having to work elsewhere, while Reimann needs companionship and particularly enjoys male company. (The GDR literary industry, which she was very much part of, was male-dominated, but even beyond this it is noteworthy how few female friends she has (or at least mentions having), and how little time she spends in female company; Christa Wolf is among the few women she feels she can (and does) turn to, but they only rarely actually meet.) These diaries also cover the time of her move to Neubrandenburg, a transition to a somewhat more traditionally metropolitan setting.

Reimann's diaries are an interesting outlet: a record of events along with some reflection, confessional but not a comprehensive outpouring. She mentions that there are things that she can not bring herself to write about, for example, -- though also admits using the diaries as a place to record things she doesn't feel she can write or otherwise share with acquaintances -- but she also only turns to it intermittently, with days and weeks often passing between entries. In 1966 there's a falling-off, months between some of the entries -- even as she notes, in one catch-up post, that life has been particularly eventful; it's well into 1968 before she really picks things up again.

Through it all, there's a surprising evenness to how she relates events. Only very rarely are there any sort of outbursts, and even as she presents herself as a very emotional person, easily carried away, her accounts remain calm, almost neutral. So also major events, such as her receiving the Heinrich Mann Prize, a leading literary prize, are presented with only a bit of reflection -- and, even more remarkably, she deals with her cancer diagnosis simply and matter-of-factly. This consistent approach is all the more striking when compared to how she describes herself: 9 August 1968 she gets the benign results of a medical procedure and admits to incredible worry and now relief -- a rare use of an exclamation point making it all the clearer how great her relief is:

Gott, war ich glücklich ! Monatelang diese Tagsüber verdrängte Angst, ich hätte vielleicht Krebs...

[God, was I happy ! All these months the fear I repressed during the daytime that I might have cancer...]

(Typically, the earlier entries in fact give no hint how much this had been troubling her -- though admittedly this is from a period when she wasn't writing much in her diary (perhaps because of these fears ?).)

As readers familiar with her biography are all too aware, the respite was short-lived: on 11 September she gets the bad news: she has cancer and her right breast has to be removed. It's not even the first thing she mentions in that day's entry, and beyond noting that it came as a 'terrible shock' she only devotes a few lines to it. So also after the operation, she devotes only a few lines to it -- and, beyond the annoyance at the weakness in her arm from the procedure and what they cut away, it barely rates a mention afterwards. Admittedly, again, there are long gaps between entries here, but the impression here and throughout is of a person who just wants to -- and admirably manages to -- move on. (Of course, in some respects, such as her more intimate relationships with men, she moves on almost shockingly easily, or even desperately.)

Illness -- back problems as well as the cancer -- and hospital stays come more to the fore at the later stages, but Reimann doesn't wallow much, complaining mostly about the inconvenience and being kept from writing.

Writing remains central to Reimann, and it is her Franziska Linkerhand-project that consumes her; it is one of the few stable elements in her life -- though also marked by instability as she often struggles with parts of it. The (shifting) political situation complicate matters too, with a constant give and take with the authorities, as also the early chapters of the novel circulate and she gets reactions to them; by 1968 her disillusionment with the system and her annoyance with her own self-censorship have come much more to the fore. She finds her earlier books limited, but also notes that some of what she wants to express is untenable in the society and political system she operates in:

Ich möchte schreiben, nur so kann ich existieren, nur, mein Gott, was ich schreiben möchte ... Ich werde es tun, Arbeit für die Schublade. Das Buch allerdings muß fertig werde, das enthält wenigstens eine Spur dessen, was ich zu sagen habe

[I have to write, that's the only way I can exist, only, my God, what I want to write ... I will do it, works for the drawers. The book, however, has to get done; that at least contains a trace of what I have to say.]

Often emotional, especially in her relationships -- things get way out of hand on a number of occasions --, Reimann nevertheless has her writing to turn back to, the foundation that is ultimately her bedrock even as all else is inconstant. As a melancholy Reimann admits at one point, getting at the crux of her difficulties with men:

Ich sagte: der Schriftsteller is stärker als die traurige Frau. Ja, sagte er, bei dir siegt immer der Schriftsteller.

[I said: the writer is stronger than the sad woman. Yes, he said, it's always the writer in you that comes out on top.]

As to the writing itself, the contrast with Christa Wolf is revealing. As Reimann herself notes, she respects Wolf's style but it isn't for her; she finds Wolf's writing: 'essayistic -- I mean: she does not fabulate' ("sie erzählt nicht"). Or, in blunter terms, as Reimann quotes then-still Aufbau Verlag editor Klaus Gysi about the difference between Reimann and Wolf's books: "Die Reimann weiß wenigstens, wie ein Mann riecht" ('Reimann at least knows what a man smells like'). Reimann obviously quotes the words approvingly -- and even says she's 'touched' by the remark -- and, while a very raw way of putting it, it does indeed peg the two authors perfectly.

Politically active -- in the writers' organizations that played such a significant role in East Germany -- Reimann has increasing difficulties reconciling her fundamental belief in the workers' state with the realities of the regime. In 1965 already she worries about a coming ice-age: "Überall herrscht Konfusion, die Stücke und Bücher werden jetzt en masse sterben" ('There's confusion everywhere, plays and books will die en masse now'), and she is devastated by the events in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. As events unfold in Czechoslovakia, she is is incredibly frustrated:

Ich habe geweint: unseretwegen, über uns, aus Zorn. Zornig auch gegen mich selbst -- Mitmacher, Schweiger.

[I cried: for our sakes, and about us, out of fury. Fury also against myself -- fellow traveler, not speaking up.]

As with everything else, however, she is also able to move on: politics and her disillusionment feature, and there are consequences to her reactions to the Prague Spring, but she does not obssess or indeed let it affect her day-to-day life any more than it must (given the role of the authorities over so many aspects of her life -- from housing to publication). It's not indifference -- Reimann has and continues to express strong opinions -- but, just as with the cancer, she won't let it dominate her life. She manages to compartmentalize this too.

Only men drift constantly into her life, and add to her turmoil. She likes to drink (a lot), and though she often withdraws she also enjoys those long nights in the company of others. And those intimate nights in the company of others. Even she seems bemused by her messy casual relationships -- though admirably there's very little sense of shame here. More problematic are the deeper relationships, such as with husband 'Jon', which of course suffers from their frequent separation and their lust (he too has an affair).

The presentation of the material is well done -- with the one caveat that there are a lot ellipses, material not included because of repetition or for legal reasons. A more than thirty-page chronology of (world and local) events; a summary chronology of Reimann's life; sixty pages of helpful endnotes; as well as a names-index provide most of the supporting material readers need. While much is only addressed fleetingly, the diary does touch on much of the East German cultural activity as well as the politics in these times; if not an ideal primary text on these, the diaries nevertheless are useful complementary material for anyone interested in this period and subject-matter.

Reimann is a fascinating figure -- an obsessed writer, enthusiastic reader ("Wochenlang Thomas Mann gelesen" ('reading Thomas Mann for weeks on end') she notes after finally getting the complete works; "Ich kann über nichts anderes mehr sprechen, das wird schon manisch" ('I can't speak of anything else any more; I'm completely obsessed')) -- even as she worries, late on, briefly about no longer reading as much -- hard drinker (and smoker, which passes almost unnoticed in those times when it was so ubiquitous that it barely rates a mention), phenomenally active and involved. She presents herself as very emotional -- mentioning incredibly heated arguments and long crying-jags -- yet the diary-entries are very controlled: she is almost always able to step back in her accounts, though she also doesn't convey a sense of cold distance in doing so. The absence of self-pity is welcome -- and, given some of what she goes through, quite remarkable. Obviously, the entries only form part of a picture -- but it's a rich part, and there's a great deal of fascinating incidental information to go along with it.

Perhaps difficult to appreciate without at least some sense of East German (literary) life in the 1960s, It All Tastes of Farewell is nevertheless both fascinating and gripping (not least, sadly, in the reader's awareness of what's coming, a life that will be cut short). - M.A.Orthofer



Antonio de Guevara - The court is a perpetuall dreame, a botomelesse whorlepole, an inchaunted phantasy, and a mase: when he is in, he cannot get out till he be morfounded

Antonio de Guevara, A Looking Glasse for the Court, Trans. by Sir Francis Bryan and Jessica Sequeira, Sublunary Editions, 2021.

read it also here

"The court is a perpetuall dreame, a botomelesse whorlepole, an inchaunted phantasy, and a mase: when he is in, he cannot get out till he be morfounded."

This volume is an old-spelling edition Sir Francis Bryan’s 1548 translation of Antonio de Guevara’s Menosprecio de corte y alabanza de aldea (1539), a treatise in the contemptus mundi vein exhorting the reader to quit the court and live in the country. Although de Guevara has not been edited and published in English in over a century, during the mid-sixteenth century his prose was among the most read in all of Europe, translated into every major language. (Merik Casaubon remarked that no book besides the Bible was as often translated and reprinted as Guevara’s Dial of Princes, a.k.a. The Golden Boke of Marcus Aurelius.) In A Looking Glasse for the Court, one will find a convergence of the courtly and medieval traditions with a heady infusion of classical erudition (sometimes spurious, of Guevara’s own invention). It should be noted that while our text is based on the 1548 translation, our title is taken from the the later 1575 edition. Guevara’s prologue, which appears in the original 1539 edition, has been newly translated and restored by Jessica Sequeira, as it has not previously appeared in English.

Antonio de Guevara was born around 1480, likely in the Cantabrian village of Treceño. In 1492, Guevara went to the royal court, where he would be for roughly the next two decades. In 1506, he joined the Franciscan Order. In 1523, he was appointed to serve as a preacher in the royal chapel, the first of several positions to which the Holy Roman Emperer Charles V appointed him. In 1528, Libro áureo de Marco Aurelia emperador y elocuentísimo orador was published (translated in 1534 by Lord Berners into English as The Golden Boke of Marcus Aurelius Emperour). This book, which would later be reissued in an expanded and revised form, was eventually published in every major European language. In 1529, he was appointed by the the Emperor to the bishopric of Guadix and in 1537, to the bishopric of Mondoñedo. In 1539, five of his books were published, four of which were bound together, including Menosprecio de corte y alabanza de aldea. Guevara’s last four books, published in the 1540s, represent a departure from the concerns of his preceding work and deal with Christianity. He died on Good Friday in 1545.


Infinity Land Press Anthology presents artists and writers who overstep the mark, erase boundaries and confront the horror and sensuality of the human condition, a multi-genre exploration of the imaginative expression of the brutal facts of life.


Anthology, Ed. by Steve Finbow, Infinity Land

Press, 2021.

Twenty-three works of art and literature, twenty-three works of discord and desire, zones of contact and regions of conflict, a glossary of the weird and the violent, the erotic and the transgressive, always in a state of flux, constantly reanimating, endlessly mutating. Provocative and poetic, the Infinity Land Press Anthology presents artists and writers who overstep the mark, erase boundaries and confront the horror and sensuality of the human condition, a multi-genre exploration of the imaginative expression of the brutal facts of life.


Stephen Barber - Philip Best - Martin Bladh - Michael Carter - Dennis Cooper - Paul Curran - Zac Farley - Brad Feuerhelm - Steve Finbow - Devin Horan - Marc Hulson - New Juche - Shane Levene - Michael Mc Aloran - Hector Meinhof - Jeremy Reed - Michael Salerno - Jack Sargeant - Gary J. Shipley - Jukka Siikala - S. M. H - Audrey Szasz - - Eugene Thacker - Karolina Urbaniak


qntm - An antimeme is an idea which, by its intrinsic nature, prevents people from spreading it. How do you contain something you can't record or remember? How do you fight a war against an enemy with effortless, perfect camouflage, when you can never even know that you're at war?

qntm, There Is No Antimemetics Division, 2020.



read it at Google Books

An antimeme is an idea with self-censoring properties; an idea which, by its intrinsic nature, discourages or prevents people from spreading it.

Antimemes are real. Think of any piece of information which you wouldn't share with anybody, like passwords, taboos and dirty secrets. Or any piece of information which would be difficult to share even if you tried: complex equations, very boring passages of text, large blocks of random numbers, and dreams...

But anomalous antimemes are another matter entirely. How do you contain something you can't record or remember? How do you fight a war against an enemy with effortless, perfect camouflage, when you can never even know that you're at war?

Welcome to the Antimemetics Division.

No, this is not your first day.

This is a fantastic exploration of a particular SF/horror subgenre by the master himself. There are precursors and adjacent fiction - Langford's BLIT, the concept of "infohazards", The Laundry Files - but this is just on a different level.

Partly thanks to its origins on the web via the SCP Foundation project, the story is told in a series of vignettes, requiring the reader to deduce and piece together the whole story in their mind (until they can dimly perceive the vast outlines of...)

The text is philosophically interesting and narratively engaging. The horror will hit you in the guts, but also eat away slowly at your mind as you puzzle away at the implications (Thomas Ligotti retire binch!)

To say this is just typical of a qntm production is only to point out that he's consistently excellent.

It's only 200-odd pages long and a couple of quid on Google Play. In terms of various ratios (enjoyment/page, enjoyment/price, mindblows/page) this is probably the best book I've read this year. Go buy it! - Tom

This book reads like the Laundry Files weird older sibling.

Time jumps and memory gaps are used effectively to convey the struggle against inhuman threats to memory and identity.

The plot spirals inward, sprinkling clues like breadcrumbs for you to piece together. If you like that kind of thing (as I do) it's great. But if you are looking for a fast-paced read with spoon-fed information, then this is not the tale you are looking for. - Brent

These stories scared the crap out of me. I think the idea of memes that are self-camouflaging, that eliminate their own traces, reflects a deep existential unease and questions about epistemological uncertainty, in a moment when 40% of Americans are lost in conspiracy theories, compounded by the near certainty of a future in which we will be able to manipulate perception and memory in a far more profound way. How do we fight an enemy that denies its own existence? - James Hughes

“How would you fight something that kills you if you think about it?”

Take a second right now and really think about how a creature like that would work: one that can’t harm you until you know it exists, and by then – it’s too late . A monster that devours not just the victim, but the idea of the victim too. A thing whose footprints are the gaps in your mind where people you knew used to be.

“There is No Antimemetics Division” by qntm is the best kind of science fiction. It’s the kind that asks a smart question about the way the world could be and then truthfully, thoughtfully, answers it. It explores consequences – turning sometimes complicated scientific scenarios into narratives that leap off of the page and bury themselves at the back of your mind and the bottom of your gut. It fills pages with gripping characters, places, and things, which don’t just help to talk about the science, but harmonize with each other in a way that practically sings it to you.

It’s also deliciously gross and horrific, and oddly touching. It’s not a book without faults (the ending got a little out-there, even for me), but a perfect book to me is a book that I finish and then want to read again. This onr scratches the same itches that films like Ex Machina and Coherence do for me: stories that are interested in the human ramifications of a smart problem and hope the audience is too. It was a thrilling, refreshing, and thought-provoking ride. - Matt Woodcock

Truly original science fiction is rare, but somehow qntm has stuck on a whole vein of new ideas. This antimemetics concept is brilliant. There is a Lovecraftian element here, sure, and a whole host of other influences, but the way this narrative is told, and the intellectual core of it is really something that I've never encountered before.

This is a story about creatures that feed on information and memories, such that half of this novel is about people trying to guard their own memories - they are constantly remembering and forgetting. The plot is necessarily fragmentary to accomodate this. At first this book felt more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but that feeling didn't stick around. This is a novel, and all the little details are relevant.

I had never heard of qntm before I bought this book yesterday. To my shame, I just picked it up because I liked the cover and the title sounded cool. It's good to take a chance on something now and again. But in the end, I was really surprised. This is some of the best science fiction that I've read in a long while. - Felix


There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm

This story is complete.


Read this before Five Five Five Five Five.

Five Five Five Five Five by qntm

This story is a direct sequel to There Is No Antimemetics Division. This story is complete.

Deleted scenes

Here is some bonus material which for various reasons never made it into the actual Antimemetics Division stories or onto the wiki.


qntm, Ra, 2021.


Magic is real.

Discovered in the 1970s, magic is now a bona fide field of engineering. There's magic in heavy industry and magic in your home. It's what's next after electricity.

Student mage Laura Ferno has designs on the future: her mother died trying to reach space using magic, and Laura wants to succeed where she failed. But first, she has to work out what went wrong. And who her mother really was.

And whether, indeed, she's dead at all...

qntm, Fine Structure, 2021,


Fledgling physicist Ching-Yu Kuang has discovered a Rosetta Stone for all of physics, a treasure trove of advanced scientific breakthroughs beyond all imagination. Exotic energy, teleportation, FTL, parallel universes and near-infinitely more wonders are just within reach; a promise of paradise.

But every attempt to exploit this new science results in sabotage, chaos and destruction. And the laws of science themselves are changing with each experiment, locking out the new discoveries, directly altering the universe to make what should be possible impossible. While Ching watches, humanity's future is being stolen.

Because there's something wrong with his world. There's a fundamental flaw, a defect in its structure...

qntm, Ed, 2021.


Ed MacPherson is your college whiz-kid hyper-scientist: wormholes, time travel, heavy stellar engineering. When the aliens attack and you need a giant robot to fight them, he's your guy. When a galaxy goes missing, he's the one who misplaced it.

But there's something wrong in the dark layers of Ed's universe... and the problem might just be Ed himself...