October 09, 2011

Stasiland - Anna Funder

I am definitely going through a German reading phase at the moment so if any one has any suggestions for great books set in this country could you please send them my way.
Stasiland is a book I have had on my shelf for quite a while - since it was first published actually. I had caught the author doing a radio interview as part of her tour for the books release and I was fascinated by the subject area but also the way Funder spoke about her research for and her process of writing the book. I eagerly rushed out to buy a copy but then like so many other books, it was pushed aside for other reading choices - a victim of the "so many books, not enough time" dilemma we face on a daily basis.
Luckily for me Stasiland was one of the required reads for a course I was doing this semester on creative non-fiction as part of my masters so it has finally made it to the read pile of my bookshelves.
Stasiland tells several personal stories of the devasting impact of the Stasi (the East German secret service) in the life of the German Democratic Republic. Funder has interviewed people from all sides of the story, GDR citizens who were affected by the regime and  Stasi informants and members who carried out the work.
In the 1990's Funder was working for a television station in Germany when she became interested in the stories of the people who had been ruled by the Stasi:

Later, Frau Hollitzer told me about Miriam,  a young woman whose husband has died in a Stasi remand cell nearby. It was rumoured the Stasi orchestrated the funeral, to the point of substituting an empty coffin for a full one, and cremating the body to destroy any evidence of the cause of death. I imagined paid-off pallbearers pretending to struggle under the weight of an empty coffin, or perhaps genuinely struggling beneath a coffin filled with eighty kilos of old newspapers and stones. I imagined not knowing whether your husband hanged himself, or whether someone you now pass in the street killed him. I thought I would like to speak with Miriam, before my imaginings set like false memories.

The transparency of Funder's research and interviews are shown through out the book - Funder herself is very much present as a character in the book and her emotions of shock, anger, frustration and sadness echo those that we are feeling as a reader as we hear about the atrocious acts committed against the East German people under the Stasi. There is also a strong tone of resilience and hope to the book which helps to balance it and adds to the feeling of authenticity and genuineness.
Funder's writing style is engaging, honest and lively - you can clearly see each of the people as they tell their stories and Funder has a lovely sense of humour which comes across as nice relief in some stages of the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone that has a slight interest in this period of history - it has certainly added to my knowledge and understand and has only left me wanting to learn more.

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