"East Germany Had Its Charms, Crushed by Capitalism"

A book review headline that's a worthy companion to 1992's infamous: "A Gulag Breeds Rage, Yes, but Also Serenity."

Veteran Times contributor and book critic Richard Eder reviewed "New Lives" by German novelist Ingo Schulze, a book that excoriates what colonizing Western capitalism has done to the former East Germany. Schultz portrays capitalism as a force bulldozing everything in its path, even worthwhile values that had survived the Communist regime.

That set up this jaw-dropping headline: "East Germany Had Its Charms, Crushed by Capitalism."

One can hardlyconceive a newspaper headline that suggested a fascist society had its good points; a headline reading "Nazi Germany Had Its Charms, Crushed by Allies" is a vanishingly unlikely prospect. Was the same headline writer at work who penned (over a story ofthe last Soviet political prisoners being released) the infamous Times headline of February 12, 1992: "A Gulag Breeds Rage, Yes, but Also Serenity"?

After that stunner, the review itself is almost an afterthought. Eder's apparent pox-on both-their-houses attitude is disturbing as well, though one is hard-pressed to know where the writer Schulze ends and critic Eden begins:

Born and educated in East Germany, where he began to write, he has directed his fire at two targets. One is the harsh and (almost worse) stultifying Communist regime. The other is the capitalist tide that flooded in from the West once the wall came down, overpowering a ravaged and demoralized society and buying up quite a bit of it.


For the post-wall West German ascendancy, on the other hand, he has only anger. To Mr. Schulze what happened was not reunification but something closer to colonization. Bad as things were in the East, he has suggested, there were certain values that grew up against the distortions, like plants sprouting, marred but tenacious, through rubble. The Western bulldozer crushed them with a mix of exploitation and incentive.

A minor character in "New Lives," a die-hard leftist holdout in the reunified nation, makes an argument for the old Communist states: "We, in the East, had been the guarantors that capitalism in the West had worn a human face. But that was all over now."

Odd, seemingly. Yet this very long novel describes a moral, social and economic plundering by an invading capitalism - unrestrained in the absence of any countervailing force. Unlike Mr. Schulze's earlier work, the book has a tone of unalloyed bleakness. This bleakness colors not just the new situation but also the prewall society that he had previously treated with a measure of human complexity. "New Lives" is all scorn, for the old as well as the new.