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Christoph Hein: Der Fremde Freund (aka Drachenblut) (The Distant Lover)

Claudia is a thirty-nine year old doctor in East Germany. At the start of this novel, she is attending a funeral. It seems like the funeral of a casual friend but it turns out to be her boyfriend and most of the novel is taken up with the period from when she first met him up to his death. Her reaction to the death of Henry, her boyfriend, is what makes her – untouchable, an impenetrable barrier. Ich hatte nie das Gefühl, beteiligt zu sein. – I never had the feeling of being involved. She is not a bad person nor a cruel one. But everything that comes her way is blocked off. She has friends, colleagues, parents, relatives with whom she communicates but she does not let them get too close. She sees people suffering, people in pain, people dying – and not just professionally – and she is indifferent.

There are three influences that seem important. Firstly, her best friend at school, Katharina, is not politically correct by East German standards. Her family is openly Christian. Then her brothers defect to the West. Claudia is advised by family and teachers to have much less to do with Katharina. She naturally refuses. But then someone tells Katharina – inaccurately – that Claudia has said something unpleasant about her and they fall out. Finally, Claudia publicly condemns Katharina when she declines to join the Young Communists. However, it is clear Claudia regrets this. Secondly, her uncle is arrested for having been a Nazi even though the war is long since past. Claudia takes pleasure in being the niece of a war criminal and confessing his sins. Finally there is Henry who pops into her life uninvited. (They live in the same apartment block.) He is married with two children (but separated) and designs nuclear power plants. He is somewhat disorganised and their relationship certainly lacks the order Claudia seeks but it drifts along till he dies. She is mildly affected by his death but carries on. And now, all she has left are boxes and boxes of photos she has taken, not of people but of landscapes and still life and she really does not know where to put them.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Aufbau-Verlag
First English translation 1989 by Pantheon
Translated by Krishna Winston