Review: Stasiland by Anna Funder

  • Title: Stasiland
  • Author: Anna Funder
  • Series: No, stand alone
  • Genre: Non-Fiction – East Germany, Secret Service.
  • Available in the library: Yes

anna-funder-stasiland

Reviewed by Sam Scales.

The Australian author Anna Funder, uncovers the hidden stories of the people whose lives had been moulded by one of the most efficient police states in human history – East Berlin. The award-winning book Stasiland investigates the truth behind the East German secret police. Funder set out on a journey to examine the stories of both the victims and perpetrators; those who had worked for the Stasi and of those who had been persecuted by them. Through her documentation of the lives affected by the Stasi, she exposes the shocking truth of how they methodically tortured, spied and imprisoned their own citizens.

Funder’s creation of Stasiland is her account of the brutal history of a country so rich with political conflict and tension between its own governments (East Germany and West Germany).  She digs deep to find the details of the Stasi intelligence group by connecting herself to people who formerly worked for the Stasi as well as people who were tormented and abused by them.

Funder displays her affection and admiration for the East German people throughout her book. The idea for her book was sparked during her employment with a TV station in West Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was puzzled why producers felt that the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a subject best forgotten. She embarked on her own search to find out what it was like to live in what the German media called “the most perfected surveillance state of all time.” By going in to the homes of everyday East Germans she discovered stories about their past that were horrifying and very sad.

Funder is able to gain access to this dark period of German history through the relationships she forges with her main characters, these characters provide readers with a passport into this time. As the stories of the characters of Miriam and Julia, who are a central spine of this book, unfold, the lasting psychological effects of the regime become apparent. From being made to spy on your friends, to living in an apartment with no doors to not feel imprisoned, these women were brutally honest about the short and long term affect their experiences had on their lives.

The Stasi affected the lives of thousands of East Germans during their reign. Most East Germans impacted during this time have never fully recovered or been able to forget the trauma. In this book we also see the side of the people who committed these acts. Anna releases an ad in the paper calling for the help of former Stasi officers in the hope to get their side of the story. She meets with former Stasi officers Herr’s Koach, Winz and Von Schnitzler. When questioning them, she discovers the motive behind their involvement and the beliefs they have, as well as the kind of work they encountered. A common theme she unveils was that the Stasi believed what they were doing was right and better for East Germany.

The facts and the stories she digs up within the book give the reader a detailed idea of the type of country East Germany was and specifically what it felt like to be a citizen in that country. This book is a brilliant display of Anna Funder’s investigative analysis. It’s an eye opener for the reader about the tragedy of life in such a controlling and scary police state. People should never have to experience such horror in their own country by fellow countrymen. It’s a masterpiece, written almost like a novel with the perfect mix of intelligence, drama, curiosity and compassion. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, especially to those whose interested in European history and the stories behind one of the biggest turning points in time.

In 2004, Stasiland won the BBC Four Samuel  Johnson Prize, recognised as the world’s biggest and most prestigious award for non-fiction. In addition, Stasiland was short-­listed for the following:

  • The Age Book of the Year Awards (non-­‐fiction)
  • Guardian First Book Award
  • Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Award for  Innovation in Writing, Adelaide Festival
  • Index Freedom of Expression Awards
  • W.H.  Heinemann Award.

If interested watch the award winning film The lives of others which will give you further insight to this subject.

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