I'm reading a book of letters and journal entries, Leben waer eine prima Alternative, (Life would be the best choice) by Maxie Wander, an Austrian feminist who died of breast cancer at the age of 44. Her husband, Fred Wander, was a holocaust survivor. They were dedicated Marxists and lived in
Christa Wolf was a close friend of the Wanders and was very good to Maxie Wander in her last days.
I'm finished with Maxie Wander's collection of letters and journal entries, Leben waere eine prima alternative, and feel that her husband, Fred Wander, did a wonderful job of arranging them to great dramatic effect. The first pieces describe her reactions to her breast cancer diagnosis and then they go back in time to her struggles with marriage, family, work: the incessant demands on her time and energy that have always been the lot of German women, her ambivalence about the common folk, as a person who freely decided to live in a People's "democracy," and so on. Although she enjoyed many privileges as a pampered member of the intellectual class, whose job it was to tout the superiority of life in
East Germany to that in , especially the moral superiority, she was subjected to the harsh realities of an overburdened health care system when she got cancer. She found herself six to a room with women in late stage Alzheimer's, dying women, overworked and impatient nurses, uncaring doctors...her condition was terrible enough in the first place, but it was the incessant noise and confusion as she went through treatment that destroyed her nerves. It amazes me that no one around her, her family included, felt that she should be excused from her duties as housewife, mother, and hostess to her husband's many friends. This lack of peacefulness around her surely hastened her end. West Germany
Her writing has something that I find lacking in most women's writing today in the way she really puts herself out there. She shows her feelings, good or bad. She has no trace of the sentimentality or religiosity that, in my opinion, makes it difficult for women to think straight about their lives.
She may have believed in the ideal Marxist state, but she was always basically what I would call a thinker with heart. I would like to see some scholar or grad student translate her work into English. Her particular open and congenial style would translate well.
Her work affects me deeply.
More: Maxi Wander died in 1977-- a long time ago-- but what she writes about seems contemporary to me. For one thing, the cancer treatment she got is identical to what a woman with her diagnosis of metastasized breast cancer would get today: surgery, radiation, removal of ovaries, chemo. For all the marches and the pink ribbons, there has been no progress in the treatment of late stage breast cancer.
The more I think about it the more I believe this book is one of those important feminist works that is in danger of being buried forever. Maybe I should try to do something about that. I would need help, though.
More: I think the hardest part of this would be to convince anyone that this is a necessary project. Haven't we moved beyond that? is the objection I think would be the commonest. But we really haven't.