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Contributor

Uwe Johnson

Uwe Johnson (1934–84) grew up in the small town of Anklam in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. At the end of World War II, his father, who had joined the Nazi Party in 1940, disappeared into a Soviet camp; he was declared dead in 1948. Johnson and his mother remained in Communist East Germany until his mother left for the West in 1956, after which Johnson was barred from regular employment. In 1959, shortly before the publication of his first novel, Speculations About Jakob, in West Germany, he emigrated to West Berlin by streetcar, leaving the East behind for good. Other novels, The Third Book About AchimAn Absence, and Two Views, followed in quick succession. A member of the legendary Gruppe 47, Johnson lived from 1966 until 1968 with his wife and daughter in New York, compiling a high-school anthology of postwar German literature. On Tuesday, April 18, 1967, at 5:30 p.m., as he later recounted the story, he saw Gesine Cresspahl, a character from his earlier works, walking on the south side of Forty-Second Street from Fifth to Sixth Avenue alongside Bryant Park; he asked what she was doing in New York and eventually convinced her to let him write his next novel about a year in her life. Anniversaries was published in four installments—in 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1983—and was quickly recognized in Germany as one of the great novels of the century. In 1974, Johnson left Germany for the isolation of Sheerness-on-Sea, England, where he struggled through health and personal problems to finish his magnum opus. He died at age forty-nine, shortly after it was published.

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