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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (edition 2011)

by Anna Funder

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973298,858 (4.06)51
Member:Cfraser
Title:Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
Authors:Anna Funder
Info:Harper Perennial (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

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English (27)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
My friend Aleks and I are each writing non-fiction stories that involve some form of first-person narrative. It's a troublesome form, first person, because quite often the narrative gets in the way of the story. Done poorly, it's a narcissistic writer's tool that reads about as well as a monkey uses a hammer.

I realize that's hardly a ringing endorsement for first-person stories, and yet Anna Funder has managed to do exactly the opposite with Stasiland. The book, and the stories of the people she meets as she pieces together life in East Berlin during the time of The Wall, is gorgeous and flawed (in the best way).

Funder's story paints a picture of daily life in East Berlin under the brutal watch of the Stasi, the sector's secret police. She offers little historical insight or weighty dissections of how East Berlin came to be. Instead, she spends her time fluttering from citizen to Stassi to citizen, at each stop painting portraits of a life stuck in a particular time.

Even as I try to capture her narrative style and stylings, I find it difficult. On more than one occasion, I found the lack of contextual depth noticeable only to realize five minutes later that Funder had pulled me along with her gentle narratives. The story felt intellectually light in some places, and yet full of the humanity of her subjects.

It's the last point that I expected to bother me as I finished the book. Certainly the book wasn't long on context. Often I felt as if the author relied simply upon "what you know" about East Berlin to shorthand the narrative, and yet the world of the Stasi's GDR surrounded me as I read and her characters lept off the page.

So if this review seems disjointed in its explanation, let me lay any confusion to rest: Funder's writing is brilliant and beautiful, and paints her story across the canvas. The misgivings about the style are my own.

Read this book today. ( )
  thebradking | Feb 22, 2014 |
Hard to place in any specific genre. Funder investigates the GDR (before the Wall came down in 1989) and the life of the East Germans under the Stasi in interview form. She includes personal experience of her visits there and is written in novel/narrative form with a personal "I", so it takes a while to realise it's not a novel - though it's marketed as one - the main point being the disclaimer that names have been changed (to protect people who spoke to her I imagine). It's not quite a fully researched historical novel either, though she has some historical data etc in the sources at the back - it's more about how the wall affected people's lives, and how it is for them after the wall came down and I think it's a valid way to explore it - the personal accounts make it more real & go some way to educating people who might not know much history. There are plenty of dry history books around for exact details if you want that.

Much of the wall doesn't exist now, but for many of the people the wall is still in their heads. The "Mauer im Kopf". The wall persists in the x-Stasi minds as something they hope might one day come again, and in their victims' minds too, as a possibility. Many people are waiting still for the puzzle-women to reconstruct shredded Stasi files to find out what happened to their loved ones, why their hopes, careers, & aspirations never eventuated behind the Wall and at the rate the puzzle women work it will be about 375 years apparently before the job is completed - though many wait hoping to make sense of what happened to their lives before they can move on.

While the subject matter is depressing Funder manages to write without dragging you into the mire. There are some heart rending moments when some people are being interviewed, the woman with the sick child in hospital in the west while she is stuck in the east,and the death of Charlie. One is more gobsmacked at the level of ridiculous rules the Stasi applied on the people turning many into informers to save their own skin.

Among other research info,Funder found instructions to Stasi operatives on ways of crippling "oppositional" people.((From Directive 'Perceptions'('Richtlinien, Stichpunkt Wahrnehmung') It aims ""To develop apathy (in the subject)...to achieve a situation in which his conflicts, whether of a social, personal, career, health or political kind are irresolvable.. to give rise to fears in him.....to develop/create disappointments.....to restrict his talents or capabilities.....to reduce his capacity to act and.....to harness dissentions and contradictions around him for that purpose.... ""

Certainly Orwellian. Certainly frightening. Reminds me somewhat of the Department of Social Security in Australia (centrelink), though I am not sure they have such a printed manifesto.

btw the cover photograph is of the Author. I'm not sure why she is on it, but because of it I initially thought it was a chick lit book that my daughter would like.
( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
This work gets its name from the Stasi – which was the internal army by which the East German government kept control (just like NKVD in USSR). Its job was to know everything about everyone, using any means it chose.

In its forty years, ‘the Firm’ generated the equivalent of all records in German history since the middle ages. Laid out upright and end to end, the files the Stasi kept on their countrymen and women would form a line 180 kilometres long.

The paragraph below would render a general idea how deeply it affected lives of people under its “rule”:

In Hitler’s Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin’s USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people. In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.

Anna Funder depicts beautifully the “logic” behind the Wall:

So, according to Koch, Ulbricht, the head of state, decided he needed to build an ‘anti-fascist protective measure’. I have always been fond of this term which has something of the prophylactic about it, protecting easterners from the western disease of shallow materialism. It obeys all the logic of locking up free people to keep them safe from criminals.
( )
  Veeralpadhiar | Mar 31, 2013 |
There are few defining historical moments in one’s life – the type that sears itself on one’s memory so that one can always remember where one was or what one was doing when the moment occurred. For me, the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of those moments. Coming home from school, I first caught a glimpse of this historic event while trying to get my daily fix of Jeopardy. I was transfixed by the site of the people swarming the Wall on both sides, taking pick-axes to it, helping each other over it and just standing there and celebrating. It was a visually thrilling and life-altering image because it is what started me down the path of studying German.

In 1993, I was lucky enough to visit Germany as part of a student program, during which a two-day stop in Berlin was part of the itinerary. Four years after the fall of the Wall, there was still a marked difference between the East and the West. The desolation, the starkness of the architecture, the creep factor of the death zones, which could still be seen even though the Wall was all but gone – these left indelible memories. Part of the tour was through the former Checkpoint Charlie, which at that point was already set up as a tourist destination. There is something exceedingly disturbing about the boom gates, the tanks, and the passport office required that was required to visit another part of the city.

In college, one of my German professors was from East Germany. I used to bombard him with questions about life in the former GDR (Democratic Republic of Germany, or the official name of the country), changes he has seen, his opinions on the German socialist regime versus the new capitalistic one. We would argue/debate about the merits of capitalism and democracy quite frequently. At the time, being the young college know-it-all, I chalked up his opinions to being deluded and considered him a brainwashed fool to think that the East was better than the West.

I mention these stories because they all played a part in the reason why I chose to read Stasiland. Interestingly, much of what I had seen with my own eyes and experienced through the debates with my professor so many years ago was corroborated in the stories Anna Funder shares. There is no denying that there were definite drawbacks to living in the GDR. The stories about Stasi infiltration/observation, the net of informers, and their interrogation/intimidation tactics are absolutely horrifying. Yet, to deem the GDR an unmitigated failure is not accurate either. The sense of complete loss and abandonment that people still felt years after its end indicates a regime that was successfully working on some levels.

As one would expect, many of the stories that are shared within the pages of Stasiland will get one’s Western blood boiling. One in 50 East Germans informing on friends, neighbors, and family. Horrific interrogation tactics that border on the medieval. Intimidation and bribery tactics that include threats to family, to careers, to freedom. Being able to look at the West and its wealth of riches and know that to even attempt to try to reach it would mean incarceration at a minimum and possible death. This was life in the GDR.

However, for every horror story Ms. Funder shares, there are also stories of tremendous strength, courage as well as complaisance and acceptance. The sixteen-year-old girl who fails to capitulate even after she was imprisoned for trying to escape. The mother who tearfully chooses between being reunited with her son for a day versus betraying a friend in the West. A rock band that refuses to amend its politically charged lyrics after direct orders and threats to do so. There are also the stories of everyday existence, of those who did not necessarily oppose life in the GDR. They recognized its shortcomings but were not interested in leaving or surreptitiously protesting. Ms. Funder does an excellent job presenting a very fair view of life in the East.

Stasiland highlights the positives and negatives of life in East Berlin as a microcosm for life in East Germany. There are the stories that bring a reader to tears, with its elements of loss and ignorance of civil rights. There are also stories that cause a reader to pause and reevaluate one’s perception of life in the East. Throughout it all, Ms. Funder maintains a sense of wonder not only at the existence of such a regime and especially of the Wall but also at the quick destruction of almost everything related to the regime after the unification of Germany in 1990. As Ms. Funder found, something that pervasive cannot be swept under the rug or sanitized without causing mental anguish to former citizens regardless of their feelings for the regime itself. East Germany is a topic that does not generate much historical discussion, but as Ms. Funder found, it continues to be a part of the German identification process and the ramifications of its governing policies still pervade the German culture, making this a topic that should not be ignored but should continue to be studied. Stasiland is an excellent first step.
  jmchshannon | Jan 10, 2013 |
Non avevo mai capito bene la storia delle due Deutschlands separate (sono ggiòvane, quindi, quando ho cominciato a intendere il mondo, di Germania ce n'era già una, e a scuola il programma di storia arrivava al massimo alla Guerra Fredda [ma la si sfiorava appena e si parlava solo dei protagonisti USA e URSS]) men che meno quella della DDR, dei rossi, dei comunisti, dei mangiabambini.

A quanto pare, rispetto al quindicennio precedente la sua fondazione, è cambiato solo il colore...

Mi è piaciuto come libro. Avrei preferito che avesse interpellato un po' più persone ma vabè, fa niente. ( )
  Malla-kun | Sep 22, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
While the life-stories are touching and infuriating, she fails to offer insights that would have given her book a wider theme. Nevertheless, taken with a pinch of salt, Stasiland is worth reading. In the end, German history is too serious to be left solely to the Germans.
added by SamuelW | editThe Independent, Henning Hoff (Jul 31, 2003)
 

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Book description
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterward the two Germanys reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. Anna Funder’s bestselling Stasiland brings us extraordinary tales of real lives in the former East Germany. She meets Miriam, who tried to escape to West Berlin as a sixteen-year-old; hears the heartbreaking story of Frau Paul, who was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall; and gets drunk with the legendary “Mik Jegger of the East,” once declared by the authorities—to his face—“no longer to exist.” And she meets the Stasi men themselves, still proud of their surveillance methods. Funder’s powerful account of that brutal world has become a contemporary classic.
[retrieved 2/19/2013 from Amazon.com]
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In this book, Anna Funder tells the stories of people who found the courage to resist the Stasi, the communist regime's secret police.

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