Today, Diana wraps up her series by narrating what it has been like for her to finally meet and enter the “real life” of her penpal Genia, and also to see Russia for herself.
“My sudden love affair with Aitmatov nearly made me flunk my German exam in tenth grade. ‘Heroes of Our Everyday Socialist Life’ was to be the topic of our written compositions. I wrote an essay about Aitmatov’s novel The Place of the Skull. [My German teacher] managed to save me from flunking. But Aitmatov saved me even more. I never again thought in clichés about Russians and the many other peoples in the gigantic empire that was soon to crumble.”
“In history class, I single-handedly denigrated the Soviet Union. We were sitting with our textbooks open. I felt bored. There was a photo of Lenin on the page. With my ballpoint pen, I drew Lenin an earring and a Mohican haircut… Forty years earlier in Thuringia, a schoolgirl had adorned a portrait of Stalin with her lipstick. Erika Riemann spent the rest of her youth in Soviet prison camps.”
Part II of this five-part series depicts the beginning of the accidental pen-pal relationship between Diana growing up in the GDR and a girl growing up in the Soviet Union – the pivot of the whole story. We welcome readers to share their transnational cultural experiences with us, as well.
The idea in this new column is for people to share their transnational cultural experiences that shaped and changed them in some important way; the debut, running as a series for the next five weeks, features a Leipzig novelist’s relationship with all things Russian growing up in the old Karl-Marx-Stadt, and the friendship she built with a Leningrad pen pal.