Monday, 6 February 2017

Mark Twain in East Germany: Ladies, Language, Liberty, Literature, Liquor, Love

Back in December 2013, I wrote a post about 'Seven Sea Books' of East Berlin. Last Saturday I picked up a copy of a paperback called 'Your Personal Mark Twain' for £1. It looked unread, I'd never seen it before, and significantly it has slotted neatly into my very slowly increasing collection of books published by 'Seven Seas'...

Seven Seas were based in Glinkastrasse 13-15 East Berlin, and had been founded in 1958 by the American Gertrude Gelbin, the wife of the German author Stefan Heym (whose real name was in fact Helmut Flieg).

Heym had fled Nazi Germany in 1933. He lived in the US from 1935, and during WW2 was attached to the American psychological warfare unit. His task was to compose destabilizing communications to the German soldiers. Then in 1952, he and his wife Gertrude decided to quit 'the West' in protest of the American involvement in the Korean War. 

Seven Seas Books published Heym's own writing, as well as the work of 'Blacklisted' Hollywood screenwriters like Abraham Polonsky and Ring Lardner Jnr, and what they called 'The Classics' - Charles Dickens, William Morris, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. The editions were all printed in English, and mostly geared for the export market - India, Ghana and Australia were popular destinations. In the former German Democratic Republic they'd have cost you 2.85 Deutsche Marks a piece...

Gertrude Gelbin declared that the Seven Seas publications were by 'progressive authors, neglected or censored in their own countries, and favouring work that demonstrated anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-war themes, but which also possessed considerable literary merit'.

Although there doesn't appear to be a great deal written about the history of Seven Seas, several online posts include incomplete listings of their output over some twenty or so years. Around 140 books in all...

Published in 1961, book cover designed by Lothar Reher

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