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Zenta Maurina 15.12.1897-25.4.1978: Gedenkschrift zum 100. Geburtstag.

Memmingen/Allgau, Ger. Dietrich. 1997. 138 pages, ill. DM 39.50. ISBN 3-87164-131-6.

To commemorate the late humanist writer and lecturer Zenta Maurina on her one-hundredth birthday, 15 December 1997, the publisher Maximilian Dietrich has brought out a book consisting of remembrances by her former friends, colleagues, and admirers. The volume serves a dual purpose: to honor this incomparable woman who lived only to serve others, and to introduce her works to those who have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy her literary artistry.

From the book's twenty-four contributors, some of whom are no longer living, we learn revealing snippets of Zenta Maurina's life and work. Crippled by poliomyelitis at age five and confined to a wheelchair, she was never grievous of her condition. To her, life was beautiful, filled with the wonders of God's creations. She would never permit her handicap to hinder or embitter her. Her fight was not with her affliction or directed against her plight, but rather against violence, war, inhumanity, and any kind of spiritual or mental cruelty.

Born in Lejasciems, Latvia, she grew up learning German from her German mother and Latvian from her Latvian father. Her knowledge of Russian she acquired while attending a Russian secondary school. Hence the trilingual upbringing, the life under the Bolshevik and Nazi regimes, the forced exile from her homeland (Latvia), the bitter war experiences, and her own physical condition shaped and molded her fundamental outlook on life, a philosophy which postulates the basic goodness of man.

Because her ideas tend to blend with her personality, an unknown literary critic once compared Zenta Maurina to Mahatma Gandhi and Helen Keller. Each contributor to the present Gedenkschrift has comparable if not similar acclaim to voice. Maximilian Dietrich calls her an artist in dialogue and letters. To Alberts Spogis and Grete-Mader Stiel she is a philosopher of culture. But perhaps the most fitting distinction was granted her by the Frankfurter Neue Presse: Zenta Maurina is "a woman of European stature."

Although the commemorative volume is a valuable contribution to Zenta Maurina scholarship, it must be read with caution. Several of the remarks regarding Maurina's personality and art appear excessive, an honest mistake that may be attributable in part to the exalted esteem in which "the woman for all seasons" was held by some of her followers. To really know Zenta Maurina and to understand her work, we must follow Br. Virgil van Wiele's and Gent-Oostakker's suggestion: "Zenta Maurina kann man nicht lesen nnd vergessen, man muss immer wieder in ihren Buchern lesen." The book also contains 25 photos (mostly of Zenta Manrina and her friends), a list of significant dates in her life, and an up-to-date German bibliography.

Ilmars Birznieks Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
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Author:Birznieks, Ilmars
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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