Saturday, June 16, 2012

Waking Up to Christa Wolf

Waking Up to Christa Wolf by deanv41
Waking Up to Christa Wolf, a photo by deanv41 on Flickr.
In college in the late 1980s I read Christa Wolf's book Cassandra. Through Greek Mythology and current events as she saw them in East Germany, the Socialist DDR of which she was a lifelong supporter, she inventively analyzed her anxiety over the arms race between Russia and America.
As events in Japan transpired I found myself looking for literature to begin to interpret my own sense of dread, the Cassandra inside me pushing to get out. I picked up another book by Christa Wolf, 1989's Accident: A Day's News. This time she ponders the irony of radiation through her own brother's brain surgery, dependent on precision radiation, and the concurrent nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Through the day as she awaits news of the long operation, she dissects the moral dilemma posed by those that both split the atom for our benefit and our destruction. As she goes about her routine she is stopped by questions: Should she buy milk? Is it contaminated? Is anyone else buying milk or vegetables? Is the rain going to cause cancer?
As the waves of Japanese debris begin to wash ashore along our West Coast from last year's cataclysm what are we to do? Is the rain safe or have Fukushima's rays already begun to undo us? Should I drink milk? Does cheese concentrate cesium-157 or strontium-90 or plutonium? Is there anything I can know that might allay my fear? Should I find iodine? What's my own half life? Is it a passing accident, just one day's news, or is it the end of the beginning?

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