This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.
Those of us who witnessed the scenes of the Berlin Wall being torn down in 1989, albeit on TV for me, are hardly likely to forget the jubilation of the crowds on both sides. It was a time of tremendous hope, and some unhelpful Western triumphalism I can’t help feeling, which gave way to a harsh reality for some but longed-for freedom for many.
Funder’s interest in what went on behind the Berlin Wall was first kindled when she was a student in West Berlin. Several day trips to the East heightened her curiosity and after the Wall fell she began to collect the stories which would eventually become Stasiland, a very personal, carefully researched account which captures the quiet agony of the industrious Stasi’s many victims through the stories of ordinary people. Her interviewees are strikingly, sometimes painfully candid, speaking with an honesty made possible partly by Funder’s sensitivity but also by her status as an outsider. She seeks out members of the GDR’s old terror machine, trying to understand how they have dealt with their nefarious past. Written with a clear-sighted empathy that makes these stories all the more moving, her book offers an eloquent and important testament to the dreadful consequences of totalitarianism.
I read Stasiland before I’d visited Berlin, let alone begun to explore some of the countries behind the ‘iron curtain’ as it was dubbed. Walking around the now gentrified, hipster-inhabited streets of the old East Berlin in which we stayed on our second visit, overlooked but the iconic TV tower, I couldn’t help thinking of all those people inveigled in one way or another into spying on each other and all the hurt that resulted.
What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?
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