Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
review copy provided by publisher
Description from Goodreads:
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight and one in#160;50 East Germans were informing on their fellow citizens, there are thousands of captivating stories. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany. She meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III; she visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall; and she gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the east, once declared by the authorities to his face to "no longer to exist." Each enthralling story depicts what it's like to live in Berlin as the city knits itself back together#151;or fails to. This is a history full of emotion, attitude, and complexity.
I remember when the Berlin Wall came down. I remember being glued to the news during these events and being excited and happy that things were changing in the world. But, I was far more familiar with the U.S.S.R. than I was the GDR. This may have been because I hung out with a few Russian Studies majors in college, and I was generally interested in Russian history. Stasiland was a real eye-opener for me. My own ignorance about East Germany was shocking to me. For some reason, I had always assumed that East Germany wasn't as communist as Russia somehow. I'm not even sure how that could be, but that was the general impression I had.
Stasiland set me straight regarding my misconceptions about East Germany. Anna Funder does an excellent job of conveying the depressing aspects of life in communist Germany while inserting moments of much needed humor. Most of the humor is of the incredulous kind. For instance, when a young woman who has been continually unsuccessful at finding employment makes the mistake of saying that she is unemployed to the clerk at the Employment Office.
'Miss, you are not unemployed, she barked.I really liked that the book helped to put history of Germany into perspective for me. I don't know enough about German history to judge how accurate some of her statements are, but because of many of her references, I was able to roughly line up the German history.
'Of course I'm unemployed,' Julia said. 'Why else would I be here?'
'This is the Employment Office, not the Unemployment Office. You are not unemployed; you are seeking work.'
Julia wasn't daunted. 'I'm seeking work,' she said, 'because I am unemployed.'
The woman started to shout so loudly the people in the queue hunched their shoulders. 'I said, you are not unemployed! You are seeking work!' and then, almost hysterically, 'There is no unemployment in the German Democratic Republic!' p. 104
I thought the memoir format worked well here. Funder retells personal stories of several people who lived through the communist years and many of them were personally affected by the Stasi. She also interviewed some former Stasi and that was extremely interesting.
If you've read my blog at all, you probably have guessed that I really like books that make me want to read even more about a topic. And this book succeeded at this. I found it fascinating, horrifying, funny, sad, and frustrating. All this means it was a very good read.