May 03, 2009

Books: Stasiland by Anna Funder

It is said that by the time the Berlin Wall came down the relatively small population of East Germany was under more rigorous surveillance than any other country in the world, with the scrutinising being done by the Stasi and its network of informers.

Anna Funder's book is part travelogue, part investigative journalism and tells the story of the time she spent in Berlin and other cities of the former GDR talking to people who lived under the watchful eye of the Stasi. At first she has difficulty trying to start her work, but then she decides to post a classified ad in a newspaper asking for people to come forward. The people she meets all have one point in common ~ they were all emotionally scarred in one way or another by the old regime. There are tales of tragedy, regret and loss throughout the book, with some having gone through enormous pain and suffering at the hands of the powers that were, with others, who were on the side of the regime, angry at what they see as the injustices of democracy.

Stasiland is beautifully written and is at once riveting and moving. A heavily annotated history book it may not be, but Funder's prose creates a startling image of what life must have been like for people living in a state that only existed for forty years. A must-read for anyone with an interest in post-war European history.

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