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Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,470 ratings  ·  96 reviews
In this volume, the distinguished East German writer Christa Wolf retells the story of the fall of Troy, but from the point of view of the woman whose visionary powers earned her contempt and scorn. Written as a result of the author's Greek travels and studies, Cassandra speaks to us in a pressing monologue whose inner focal points are patriarchy and war. In the four accom
Paperback, 305 pages
Published May 1st 1988 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1983)
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Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“Cassandra. I saw her at once. She, the captive, took me captive; herself made an object by others, she took possession of me.”- Christa Wolf, Cassandra

This wasn’t the easiest of books to get through due to its relatively dense prose but it was well worth the effort. In a way it made me realize that I don’t know enough Greek mythology, as well as how pervasive the knowledge of ancient Greek culture is in our modern society. However, not knowing too many particulars of the Trojan War, which is th
Lyn Elliott
Cassandra A Novel and four Essays
Christa Wolf

Read April 2018

Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays had such an impact on me when I read it earlier this year that I have re-read it and taken copious notes.

It’s one of the most powerful books I’ve read. Wolf’s observations about war, violence and truth are just as applicable today as they were in ancient times or in central Europe in the 1980s. The essays following the novel are just as significant as the novel itself, as there Wolf reveals much of the
Neal Adolph
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Several months ago I finished reading the novella in this collection and I wrote a review. It is below, under the line break. In the time since I have read the essays, though that has taken a good deal of time. I moved to Colombia and left the book in Canada, which delayed reading the last essay by several months, and I celebrated Black History Month, which meant that I set aside all literature by anybody who wasn't black, even if only for a month. There have been delays.

But the essays are fanta
Pam Baddeley
This work deals with the well known story of the Trojan War but through the first person viewpoint of Cassandra, the most famous of the Trojan royal family's many daughters, who was doomed to prophecy the fall of the city but to never be believed.

The novel is unusual in that it doesn't stand alone - there is a lengthy exposition that follows it, which deals with the author's ruminations while travelling in the Greek world on a fact finding mission to develop her idea. I found most of that rather
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays by Christa Wolf, translated by Jan Van Heurck, presents the fall of Troy and its aftermath through the first-person point of view of Cassandra, a daughter of Priam and Hecuba, the king and queen of Troy. According to Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo after she promised to become his consort. When she reneged on her promise, Apollo cursed her so no one would believe her prophesies.

We meet Cassandra as she is about to face her de
While the narrative style of the novel is not my favorite style, the story does eventually become engrossing. Wolf's story of Cassandra draws on several different veins of the Troy myth as well as references the Cold War. This edition includes four essay that give depth and feeling to the novel. It is an interesting look at politics and creation. ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: german-lit
Cassandra is most famous in Greek mythology for possessing the gift of prophecy but this unique gift came with one problem: no one ever believes her true predictions. In Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Cassandra says that she agreed to have sex with the God Apollo in exchange for the gift of prophecy, but when she went back on her promise and refused the Sun God’s advances, Apollo made sure that her prophecies would never be believed. When she predicts the future her friends and family treat her as nothi ...more
There is and there can be no poetics which prevents the living experience of countless perceiving subjects from being killed and buried in art objects.

Wisdom against one's will. The gain of culture by the loss of nature. Progress through pain. The formulae which underlie [European] culture, spelled out four hundred years before our era.
This work is either the flawed results of a worthwhile premise or the worthwhile results of a flawed premise. Such is the inevitable conclusion wherever
Sarah Magdalene
Sep 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This dark race is beyond help
for the most part you had to remain
silent so as not to be considered
mad like Cassandra, when you prophesied
what already lies outside the gate.

Goethe, 1794

Spent all afternoon immersed in this great book. So inspiring to read such a sentient passionate author describing so timelessly the horror and madness of war. Impossible not to identify with Cassandra, wailing hopelessly at the insanely deluded and doomed Trojans as they demolished their own fortifications to tow i
Apr 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Nathaniel by: a professor
While I admit the book is an interesting look and study on the re-imagining of a character, as a piece of fiction it fails in many ways. The story has no over-arching structure, more a series of random thoughts and anecdotes loosely linked together by a time period. The essays attempt to give a reader an insight into the author's working process, but these fail too for much the same reason: they don't necessarily show the reader how the author developed her novella, and also have no definitive s ...more
May 14, 2017 marked it as unfinished
I've read most of the essays, which I found interesting. I'm less impressed with the narrative, which is nowhere near as good as Medea. So I'm leaving this unfinished. Rather disappointed after her other works that I've read. ...more
James Murphy
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Christa Wolf tells us this book began with a question: Who was Cassandra before anyone wrote about her? What she gives us as answer is this book made up of a historical novel and 4 essays about the character and her aspects as woman and myth. As we know, the Iliad calls her the loveliest daughter of Priam, king of Troy. A priestess of Apollo, she asks the god for the gift of prophecy, which he grants, but when she refuses his advances he punishes her by ordaining that her prophecies won't be bel ...more
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-riot
I read, skimmed, and skipped ahead, so a page number is difficult to identify.

Too dry, and unfocused. It felt like nothing much was happening, and even what did happen, I didn't feel connected to. Cassandra is about to die, looking back on her life. She was cursed with prophecy no one would believe, so her end is inevitable, but she meets it without much emotion.

The essays that follow are more of the same, adrift and difficult to focus on.
Oct 01, 2019 added it
Shelves: new-in-2019
A difficult and different book. I expected to find the Cassandra narrative more interesting than the non-fiction commentary, but was surprised. An important book for the consideration of how women are represented in literature (and culture at large). At the same time, it’s fascinating to read the certainty with which Wolf asserts an irreconcilable double-Germany less than a decade before the collapse of The Wall.
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-reread
I loved the imaginative language of this novel and Cassandra's perspective on her own struggles and mistakes. So many thought-provoking sentences and passages - will definitely reread this one. ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful and multi-layered retelling of the Trojan War through the eyes of Cassandra, the seer cursed to have no one believe her prophecies. The brief novel is accompanied by four essays that show the author traveling to Greece to do research, then returning to East Berlin to mull over what a woman's voice should say to a male-centric civilization hell bent on destruction, regardless of whether anyone listens. ...more
Julia Buckley
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Christa Wolf's stream-of-consciousness account of the mythological Cassandra, imprisoned and waiting to be executed by the vengeful Clytemnestra, is a fascinating study of an ancient world, of patriarchy, and of a universal humanity.

The novel is not broken into chapters, but that is an appropriate way to chronicle the relentless thoughts that torment Cassandra in her prison. Ultimately, despite the necessarily grim tone surrounding details of the Trojan War, there is something victorious in Cas
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

While this book did drag on a bit near the end, this was an incredible read. Wolf rewrites the story of the Trojan war from Cassandra's perspective, all the while combining elements from Athenian playwrights and other writers through the ages, and writes the Trojan war as a realistic event in history. In the second half of this book, she writes about how these characters took hold in her mind and the questions they posed as she travelled through Greece to do research.

While I would recom
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, readforschool
This text is an imaginative repositioning of the classical tragic figure Cassandra. In this telling, Cassandra transforms from a privileged and unaware royal daughter to rebellious witness who refuses to go along with the false rhetoric of war that her own family is perpetrating. She finds herself spending time in the forest in a kind of utopian/feminist/egalitarian community where people have created a space between all of the killing and dying. The story is incredible and moving and is a perfe ...more
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The novel itself is gripping, and it alone probably would have been five stars from me.

The travel journal, diary and letter addenda are interesting, and it is fun to trace the roots of the novel in Wolf's thoughts, but I thought those roots were overly buried in minutiae that made the sections difficult to read. I think it would have been better to have heard them as her lecture series, to see how Wolf herself connected the strands together into her novel.
In 1980, the distinguished East German writer Christa Wolf took a trip to Greece along with her husband, Gerhard. As an East German citizen, she’s one of the few privileged to be able to travel outside of the DDR and the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. Her encounter with Cassandra began as she begins to read Aeschylus’s ‘Oresteia’ upon waiting for her flight to Greece at Berlin Schoenefeld airport. She wrote in her accompanying essay, “Before Cassandra opens her mouth we have learned ...more
Marije de Wit
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Not ‘just’ a feminist retelling of the myth of Cassandra, whose internal monologue takes us along in her observations of life in the Trojan war. In the accompanying essays, Wolf speaks about the research and writing process of the novel and, alongside, reflects on writing in general, its relation to society and the male centeredness of the history of literature. Especially in the third essay, she also meditates on her own life in Eastern Germany during the cold war, and the omnipresence of ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
From VarianceFiction

This book was not what I expected.

But I’ll back up a bit first. Cassandra was loaned to me by a friend who’d been assigned the book as a basis for his critical thinking class. Naturally, he hated the class, and the book as well. My friend, however, is not a reader, so I dismissed most of his feelings. I figured his hatred and confusion toward the story was a by-product of his frustration with the class. Judging from the blurb, I thought, this would be an interesting, fun read
Scott Cox
It has been decades since I have read Agamemnon by Aeschylus. In that Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba. According to legend Cassandra was gifted as a prophetess by the Greek god, Apollo, who had hoped to win favors from Cassandra. However Cassandra subsequently spurned Apollo’s advances. In retaliation Apollo, unable to revoke his gift, instead cursed Cassandra causing her prophecies to go un-believed and unheeded. East German author Christa ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Less easy than Medea, I had to struggle with a dense prose and a unchronologic and sometimes eerie narrative. The way the the author depicts the madness and visions did not help.
However I very much liked the character, an engaged, dynamic and emancipated woman, discovering herself, understanding politics and existing by and through herself despite her people and family. I especially like the feminist take on the men portrayed in the book. Wolf delivers for instance a very interesting version of
Nov 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: can-t-finish
Here's a good summary of this book: "the ramblings of a disorganized mind".

What she says about the context in which the Iliad takes place is not new and what she describes as Cassandra's private life does not stand. Cassandra herself is unrelatable and not very likable which has to be bad since this whole mess is written in first person.

And it's just plain old bad writing ("'Don't talk rubbish,' said Priam."--write that one in your commonplace book). I can only assume it got such high praise be
Nov 12, 2018 added it
Shelves: retellings
ngl, i didn't Really finish the book bc i didn't get through all of wolf's essays. tbh idk if you needed all of them there. the part i really enjoyed (n was here for in the first place) was the 'novel': cassandra's monologue in her final living hours, reflecting on her life / the war in troy. she deals with issues of allegiances / truth / speaking truth to power that is probably not too far from wolf's historical context and maybe that's why wolf fell for her so fast. there's also always a lot t ...more
Ryan Holmes
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it
another one i largely abandoned during the quarter and didn't finish until now—essays were better than the novel because the novel is all ideas, & the ideas are more compellingly and urgently expressed in the essays. was charmed by the idea of a novel that doesn't feel complete if it doesn't have supplementary essays bound up with it, though. also had no idea the eighties felt so apocalyptic. it's pretty apocalyptic right now too but no one is so grave about it. ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenally speaks on themes of privilege, complicity, and the police state that resonate very strongly today, in addition to giving a unique and female twist to the mythology. Yes, it's confusing for the first 30 pages or so but as the puzzle pieces start to slide together, you'll quickly see that it's definitely worth it. ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Alternative cover for earlier printing with same ISBN 8 33 Jul 29, 2018 08:42AM  

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Novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, journalist, and film dramatist Christa Wolf was a citizen of East Germany and a committed socialist, and managed to keep a critical distance from the communist regime. Her best-known novels included “Der geteilte Himmel” (“Divided Heaven,” 1963), addressing the divisions of Germany, and “Kassandra” (“Cassandra,” 1983), which depicted the Trojan War.


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