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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (2003)

by Anna FUNDER

Other authors: Stasi (Associated Name)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,901598,839 (4.08)97
A book of travel, history and biography that reads like a documentary novel. Anna Funder tells astonishing stories from the underbelly of the former East Germany. As her narrative builds, Stasiland records heartbreaking tales of bravery and betrayal, of suffering and stoicism amid the daily chaos.
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English (52)  Italian (3)  Romanian (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
“Light tingled among the trees and thee grasses gleamed swordlike says my story. Curious how our language asks for similes. What is something like? ‘The sky is, like liquid light ‘ I wrote. Liquid is close but it’s not quite the right word.” - Lore Segal Ladies’ Lunch

It’s a pity that Funder did it take a leaf from Segal. I was about half way through Stasiland when I came upon this jewel, “His Adam’s apple bounced up and down like a mouse on a ladder..”Enough!

Still for some reason I kept reading. I was genuinely interested in Fuller’s non-fiction/fiction of the GDR. By interviewing both victims and perpetrators of the Stasi state Australia wrier Anna Funder does give some idea of what life was like in East Germany from 1960 to 1989 when The Wall came down.

I suppose we have to categorize the book as fiction, because although it includes some (I think verbatim) interviews with people who lived through the forty years of Socialist Unity Party of Germany rule, there’s no real logic behind her choice of interviewees. It’s all a bit of a grab-bag of people who she happens to run across through advertising in newspapers and from word of mouth suggestions.

There’s no intellectual rigor in Funder’s research, and although there’s no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the interview contents, the book is really Funder’s story of her two trips to Germany after the fall of The Wall.

The more interesting parts of Stasiland come when Funder editorialises. The scene at what she incorrectly assume is a public swimming pool à la Australie woke me up from the almost slumber I was descending into.

Funder has gone to the pool to get the tension out of her body. I empathized.

There are no lanes and no agreed direction. People are standing around, some cleaning various body parts. One man still has his glasses on. Kids are jumping in off the sides and an old man fiddles with his armpit hair. She is determined to do a few laps but can’t do her normal free-style as she needs to keep her head up so as not to bump into anyone. Germans are coming in at her from all directions - left, right and crosswise, when she decides to call the bluff of “the bikini girl” who is fast approaching at an angle. At which point a whistle is blown by a pool official and she’s thrown out. She finds out there are time-slots for a number of diverse groups and only a few nights a week reserved for actual swimming in lanes. She hides out in the diving pool, only to be kicked out by an official who explains that it’s for divers only. She has not. Be diving and the fact that no one else has is of course irrelevant. Rules are rules, even in a “free” Germany.

Perhaps the book was spoiled for me by the over enthusiastic narrator, Danica Fairman. I’ve criticized the narration on All Things Audio, so won’t go into it here, except to recommend the text version. Maybe you’ll get a better impression sans Fairman.

I’ve been to what was East German post “The Wall”. Funder describes it from its remnants around the turn of the century as being a barren gray place full of concrete buildings and brown linoleum decors. I concurs. Certainly that was my impression when I visited Germany for a month in 2004. A drab and desolate place which once housed a country that no longer exists.

I knew about life under Stasi rule - how it invaded every part of the people’s lives, Funder’s book does give a human face to the dark though not the darkest period in German history.

Funder sprinkles a number of stats through the novel - like one in six East Germans were either members of the Stasi or informers for them. Because Stasiland is not a scholarly work I am not sure how much to believe.

‪‪I end my review with this apt summary by Henning Hoff in
‪‪‪The Independent, Henning Hoff ‬(Jul 31, 2003)‬‬
“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.”
‪‪ ( )
  kjuliff | Jan 2, 2024 |
povești (probabil în general reale) din RDG-ul anilor 80, unele cam neinteresante, altele mai degrabă gonflate să fie mai teatrale. plus scriitură sub-mediocră, cu multe „burți”. Pe de altă parte, când nu mai e atentă autoarea (australiană de altfel, nu germană) și lasă în pace poveștile brute, sunt brusc fascinante. ( )
  milosdumbraci | May 5, 2023 |
The author is an Australian journalist who went to Berlin a year after the Wall came down and interviewed a number of people from former East Berlin who now could speak relatively openly about what it had been like living under the communist GDR state and Stasi police rule. The stories they tell convey the extraordinary pressures exerted by Stasi in the most intimate aspects of their lives (in one case a woman had to explicate pet names in her love letters to a police lieutenant), pressures to conform, spout the party line, and ultimately to agree to spy on neighbors for the state. As a reading experience, this book is more than adequately horrifying and thought provoking. ( )
  Cr00 | Apr 1, 2023 |
Disturbing account of how the East German secret police or Stasi treated the people. Just saw German movie, The Lives of Others, which goes well with this. We should avoid all dictators or wannabe ones. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
A very interesting book about showing us the working of the Stasi through interviews from both sides. My only criticism that a bit tighter editing would have been nice. ( )
  TheCrow2 | Nov 15, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (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)
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
FUNDER, Annaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
StasiAssociated Namesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
AMATO, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Björk, Moa-LisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
CARLSEN, JorunnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dennica FAIRMAN,Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guðmundsdóttir, ElínTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
KLOOS, CarolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
OSUNA AGUILAR, JuliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
VIGNOL, MireilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'... a silent crazy jungle under glass.'
The Member of the Wedding,
Carson McCullers

'The two of you, violator and victim (collaborator! violin!), are linked, forever perhaps, by the obscenity of what has been revealed to you, by the sad knowledge of what people are capable of. We are all guilty.'
The True Confessions of a an Albino Terrorist,
Breyten Breytenbach

'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
No, no! said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,
Lewis Carroll
Dedication
For Craig Allchin
First words
1 : Berlin, Winter 1996
I am hungover and steer myself like a car through the crowds at Alexanderplatz station. Several times I miscalculate my width, scraping into a bin, and an advertising bollard. Tomorrow bruises will develop on my skin, like a picture from a negative.
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A book of travel, history and biography that reads like a documentary novel. Anna Funder tells astonishing stories from the underbelly of the former East Germany. As her narrative builds, Stasiland records heartbreaking tales of bravery and betrayal, of suffering and stoicism amid the daily chaos.

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