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Fathers And Sons

In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts, by Eugen Ruge, Rowohlt, 426 pp, ISBN: 978-3498057862 In October 2011 Eugen Ruge was awarded the prestigious German Book Prize for his novel In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (In Times of Fading Light). The seven-member jury saw in this family saga a fitting reflection of East German history: “He manages to tame the experiences of four generations over fifty years into a dramatically refined composition. His book tells the story of the socialist utopia, the price it demands of the individual, and its gradual extinction.” The critical acclaim which greeted the publication was all the more remarkable given that In Times of Fading Light was the fifty-seven-year-old author’s debut novel. Ruge’s fascinating text about the rise and fall of communism, as played out in one East German family, has strongly autobiographical overtones. When asked in an interview about the significance of the fading light to which the title refers, the author responded that his story was about the “fading away of an order, of a country, of an idea, and of a family – my family”. Eugen Ruge was born in the Ural region of Siberia in 1954. His father, Wolfgang, had fled to Russia from Nazi Germany. Following the outbreak of World War II, he was deported to a forced labour camp in Siberia. He returned to East Berlin in 1956 with his wife and young son. Just like his fictional counterpart Kurt Umnitzer, Wolfgang Ruge was later to become an eminent historian in the German Democratic Republic. Interestingly, he encouraged his son to pursue his studies in mathematics at East Berlin’s Humboldt University because mathematics, unlike history, was a domain which he described as “free of ideology”. Having completed his studies, Eugen Ruge worked in Potsdam as a researcher at the Central Institute for Geophysics, which was part of the GDR’s Academy of Sciences. In the mid-1980s he began his writing career, composing radio dramas, documentary films and screenplays. Like his fictional alter ego Alexander, he defected to the West shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In an interview Ruge elaborates upon his decision to leave the GDR in 1988: “I saw no future for the country. I saw no hope for renewal, no hope that democratic socialism would come.” In Times of Fading Light had a long germination period. Ruge admits that he had made several unsuccessful attempts in the preceding twenty years to write…

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