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

Stasiland by Anna Funder
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Jan 13, 2012

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Almost a stream of conscious narrative, Funder tells the stories the West Germans and the rest of the world were ready to forget by 1996 – the tales of what it was like to live in the German Democratic Republic, where democracy was scarcer than the goods on the shelves. Who needs fifteen kinds of ham, a West German woman asks herself when sheltering an East German couple trying to build a new life in a post-1989 world – but the GDR never wanted to stop people from having fifteen different kinds of ham. It wanted to surveil, and control, and crush a people into an image the Party found suitable, even the enemy the Party and its secret police, the Stasi, were allegedly fighting became most of the GDR population, with one Stasi or Stasi informer for every fifty citizen in a population out of 17 million. And Funder makes sure this legacy is not forgotten by talking not only to the victims of the regime but to its former enforcers. She talks to a surprising number of former Stasi, informants and officers in an attempt to understand what it was like to live in a totalitarian regime. The worst news is not unexpected – that even for those who did not oppose the regime, or care about politics one way or another, ran afoul of the Party and the Stasi just by living their lives and thus found themselves out of jobs or in torture cells, with no rule of law to help them. This book is a chilling and stark reminder to those who have forgotten what Communism is really like – that if men were angels, Communism would be feasible, but men are not angels, not least those who live to spy and control their fellows. It should be noted Funder does lack some understanding of economics or economic history, as nobody who has that would call Weimar Germany a model of free-markets, but the issue is rarely raised and Funder reaches the same conclusion even without economics – that the cost of living in a wage and price subsidized state is not the worth the cost of individual life and privacy it demands.
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Melissa Westbrook I enjoyed this very much as well. "All That I Am" is also very good but quite different as it is more a creative re-imagining than recounting the research process. Funder has a gift for picking out the aspects of history main-stream audiences perhaps most misunderstand or are the least knowledgable about and explains them in a very relatable way, I think.

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