Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin WallYet another book published well over 10 years ago I discovered only recently is Anna Funder’s 2003 book Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. Even though it won the Samuel Johnson Prize and was shortlisted for several others I’d never heard of Stasiland until just recently when I found a copy through my public library. With my longtime interest in the former Soviet Bloc I could not resist Funder’s book. In the end, I’m glad I yielded to temptation. Stasiland is one of those books that took me forever to read, not because it’s boring but one I kept putting to down in order to read other things. However, slowly but surely I made my way through it. And even it took me a long time to read it didn’t leave me disappointed.

Instead of merely discussing the political system of the old German Democratic Republic (GDR) and how it collapsed, Funder spent time interviewing individual former East Germans and simply letting then tell their life stories. By doing so, she made the historical intimate and personal, and thus put a human face on history. I’m glad she was able to interview former Stasi agents and see how they’ve fared ten years after the Fall of the Berlin wall. (According to Funder, many Stasi agents, trained and well-practiced in the arts of persuasion and intimidating now spend their days not spying and harassing dissidents but selling insurance and financial services.)

Stasiland is also a sad book. Sad because even though many in the West thought East Germany was the most humane nation of the old Soviet Bloc, those living in the GDR lived under an oppressive and unforgiving regime. Individual hopes and dreams were severely attenuated and when that happens lives becoming meaningless. In some cases, perceived enemies of the state who were imprisoned and later died under mysterious circumstances had their bodies quickly cremated to hide the truth from their loved ones. It was also a regime that until the bitter end refused to step aside, even though its aging inner circle was so old some leaders disparately underwent experimental treatments in hopes of forestalling the aging process.

Stasiland is an excellent companion read to Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 and Stephen Kotkin’s Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment.

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11 Comments

Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, Current Affairs, Eastern Europe/Balkans, Europe, History

11 responses to “Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

  1. Stasiland is a favourite of mine, I read it for university years ago and it has really stuck with me. It’s great to see other people picking it up and enjoying it after so many years! If you love GDR stuff, there’s a great book called The File by Timothy Garton Ash which is a great shorter book! I read it in conjunction with Stasiland and compared the experiences in each.

  2. Wow, this sounds excellent. I’m um, for reasons I am planning to start reading more histories of authoritarian regimes and how life under them proceeded, and Stasiland sounds like an excellent candidate for that project. Thanks for reviewing!

  3. Such a fascinating book. I read it at university ten or so years ago and it still sticks with me, as does The File, which Rebecca mentions above. Completely agree with her that it would be a great companion read.

  4. Oh, thanks for doing this review! Yep, I’m going to need this one. The GDR is fascinating.

    As a teen I lived in Denmark for a year, and my host dad was German. It was 89-90, so I had a neat view of the collapse of the GDR. I never got to visit that area–my brothers did, lucky things, a couple of years later–but I did get to see the euphoria around reunification, before people got grumpier about it. I really wish I could have seen more; we took a day trip into Czechoslovakia, to a border town that kind of catered to tourists, and it was all so fascinating that I promptly wanted to learn Czech and live there.

  5. This was a book I read fairly early in my blogging days thanks to another blogger’s recommendation, I believe. I loved it. I still think about this book and the personal stories she related in it.

  6. Pingback: Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston | Maphead's Book Blog

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