Chrissie's Reviews > Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Stasiland by Anna Funder
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really liked it
bookshelves: audible, bio, germany, history

ETA: I want to make myself really clear. I wanted to give this book five stars. That is how I reacted; I thought it was amazing and astounding what the author depicted through this book. It was only my head that reduced one star because I was a bit annoyed by some of the generalizations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it sure did surprise me. Being a book of non-fiction I expected objectivity in its analysis of life behind the Wall. The author is not impartial. Shouldn't one be impartial when trying to get a correct/honest/fair view of the situation in the GDR? Life behind the Wall so changed people's lives, in ways that neither those living in the GDR and outsiders could ever imagine. It is so very clear that the author wants us to emotionally understand these people and what they have lived through. Emotions cannot be looked at clinically. Either you offer up a dry, scientific examination or you dare to throw out hypotheses and proclaim this is what happened, this is what they did and this is how these individuals reacted emotionally. The last cannot be scientifically proven, but is nevertheless important to tackle. I believe this book shows accurately how people's lives were forever altered. This needs to be understood; a few subjective statements can be tolerated to achieve the larger goal of illuminating how life was behind the Wall.

Here follow some examples of subjective analyses:

"She (Julia)is a hermit-crab all soft fleshed with friends, but ready to whisk back into its shell at the slightest sign of contact."

The prison "smelled of damp and old urine and vomit and earth. The smell of misery."

The author acknowledges her preference for some of those she contacts: "I liked him for his self-knowledge, and smiled back."

But then you even run into generalizations like "No-one watched the GDR news...." and a sweeping disparagement of socialism, that did put me off.

The author is not impartial, she makes subjective statements and even a few ridiculous generalizations, but at the same time she shows us what these people lived through. They lived in a world that is so absurd and unbelievable that it is hard to imagine.

And fear remains, because even after the wall has been torn down and one should be able to reason that life could never, ever return to the way it had been......that life that had existed is equally unimaginable. If that was real, well then just about anything could happen in the future. Some of the Stasi employees continued to work in the government after the fall of the Wall. Others have idealized how life had been behind the Wall. There is a conflict - do we go on and just forget the past and get on with the new, or do we dredge through it and expose exactly what occurred? It is not feasibly possible to expose everything, but this book at least sheds some light on what occurred. It should be read.

History is made of personal stories. The author meets those who were Stasi members, others who were murdered by Stasi agents, blackmailed and forever altered by what was inflicted upon them. One woman still today has no doors in her apartment, she lived recently at the top of an apartment building so she could see everything. She cannot stick to fixed times and schedules, not if before every move had been scrupulously followed. Such a person cannot bear the thought of ever being pinned down again.

Another woman had to choose between visiting her sick child in a West Berlin hospital or agreeing to help in a kidnapping. Which do you choose? Only after five years did her child come to live with her. Could she ever really be a mother to this child?

I was worried that the book would not hold together; it would consist of separate interviews with disparate individuals. The book does hold together because the author repeatedly meets some of the individuals. She becomes a friend and slowly they open up to her. As they open up to her, we too come to understand what life really was like there behind the Wall.

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator, Denica Fairman, was excellent, although all the men had the same voice and the women another. One was never confused.
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Reading Progress

December 4, 2011 – Shelved
December 4, 2011 – Shelved as: audible
December 4, 2011 – Shelved as: germany
December 4, 2011 – Shelved as: history
December 4, 2011 – Shelved as: bio
July 4, 2012 – Started Reading
July 9, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan History is made of personal stories.

Yes, I agree. I love this.

Chrissie Yes, it is.

message 3: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks This looks interesting, great review, and something I should read. I wonder how impartial someone can be with regard to the GDR (some people hate and with good reasons hate every aspect of the GDR, but objectively, the GDR did have some novel ideas and I always thought that painting every aspect of the GDR as evil and negative might be a bit too extreme, on the other hand, I never had to live or exist in that kind of environment, only in its shadow when I was a kid).

Chrissie The author is not German, but Australian. I hate to suggest another book to you, Gundula, but I do think you would really appreciate this book. Lisa, you too.

message 5: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks Chrissie wrote: "The author is not German, but Australian. I hate to suggest another book to you, Gundula, but I do think you would really appreciate this book. Lisa, you too."

I already added it, even if I won't get to it for a long time, if I don't add it, I will likely forget about the title and never add it.

Chrissie Simran, forget straight interviews. You are not served formal question and answer dialogs of an interview. You are told what has happened to different individuals during the years while the Wall stood, the 60s through the 80s, and during the 90s, after its fall. Rather than numerous brief interviews you get instead in-depth narratives about the lives and circumstances of a number of people. The author comes to know some of these people very well. They talk, they have beers together. Some become real friends. I never questioned the veracity of the author's conclusions.

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