20 May 2013

Book review: Stasiland

Stasiland, Anna Funder, 2002

Anna Funder, an Australian who studied German and went to work at a TV station in Berlin in the mid '90s, received a piece of viewer mail asking what had happened to the people who had worked with the Stasi and suggesting they do a piece on that. She took it up with her boss, who disagreed. But she wanted to find out, so she started looking for answers.

The first place she went was Leipzig, where, contrary to popular imagination, the anti-SED/Stasi protest movement really began. She visited the Museum in the Runden Ecke, which was the Stasi HQ in that city. (I've been there; it's very informative and chilling.) She talked with the director, who suggested she talk to Miriam.

Funder collected stories through interviews with people who lived under the SED regime, in the police state run by the Stasi. She talked to women who had been imprisoned, whose husband was (likely) murdered, who was separated from her newborn infant because he was taken to a hospital in the west sector the night of August 12, 1961. She talked to former members of the Stasi, some of whom had had changes of heart, some of whom decidedly didn't.

The stories are interwoven with the historical context surrounding them, as well as some of her own musings and speculations. Each story is compellingly written and absolutely engrossing. The sheer horror of living under the regime is palpable. Some of her musings can be a bit twee, and can run to the overgeneralization, but that doesn't detract from the rest of the book.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the former East Germany, or anyone who wants to learn about police states, the people who live under them, and the people who support them.

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