16 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars
Disappointing, 30 Oct 2006
The history of the Stasi and their place in the DDR regime could make a fascinating and important book. This, unfortunately, is not that book. Instead, this is the journal of an Australian writer living in eastern Germany as she meets various people with experience of the Stasi. It reads rather like a travel book, and - like most travel writers - Ms Funder believes that she is more interesting than her subject. We are treated to repetitive and pointless accounts of her thoughts, her train and bus journeys, her dreams, and her time spent doing nothing in her almost-empty apartment.
The real content of the book consists of 11 interviews with people connected (as employees or victims) with the Stasi. Except in two cases, Ms Funder makes her interviewees into caricatures (the heroic victim who refused to betray her friend, the raving former propagandist, the suave covert operative in a black BMW) and has often told us how to judge them before she has even met them. Their stories are compelling, but they are constantly interrupted by Ms Funder's descriptions of her own reactions. The repeated interjections of "I'm startled", "I think to myself...", "I imagine..." are tiresome.
I am judging this book harshly because it has been so celebrated elsewhere. In particular, I am disappointed that the judges of the Samuel Johnson Prize undermined the value of their prize by awarding it in 2004 to this superficial and journalistic account of an important subject.