Written six months before her death, in a single sitting, August was an anniversary gift from Wolf to her husband – a tender gift of thanksgiving, signified in the dedication.
What can I give you, my dear, if not a few pages of writing, into which a lot of memory has flowed from the time before we knew each other. I can hardly tell you anything about the later times that you don’t already know. That’s the thing – we grown together over the years. I can hardly say ‘I’ – usually ‘we’. Without you I’d be a different person. But you know that too. We’re not ones for great statements. Only this much – I have been lucky.
This mindset carries through into that of her protagonist, August, who remembers his life as he drives from Prague, home to Berlin. His memories start at the end of the Second World War, when as a refugee from the Russian troops, he loses his mother somewhere along the way. He finds himself, like many others, diagnosed with TB and admitted to a sanatorium, where key relationships are formed, life mingles with death, happiness with sadness. As he matures, his expectations remain modest, and he marries a woman he truly loves. As the drive to Berlin approaches home, we learn his wife died a few years previously, and he grieves still, knowing all that remains is loneliness and death. And yet, knowing that his has been a quiet life, well lived,
He feels something like gratitude that there was something in his life that, if he could express it, he’d call happiness.
A reflection of the author’s feeling perhaps, who had been battling a long illness at the time of writing and surely had an inkling of what was to come?
Although published in a volume of its own, August is really a short story, but a rather exquisite one. For all its sorrowful ending, it left me feeling meditative and uplifted. A keeper whch I will no doubt return to again and again.