Customer Review

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very mixed feelings, 17 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Stasiland (Paperback)
I am one of very few westerners who lived and worked in the GDR (for two years from 1979) and I read this book in a spirit of curiosity: how on earth could an Australian arrive at any understanding of the place, especially since she is approaching it retrospectively, after the GDR ceased to exist? No doubt this book is a creditable piece of investigative journalism but there are problems.

Her agenda is to tell the stories of people who resisted the regime and suffered at the hands of the state security. This she does with sensitivity and in great detail and I do not doubt what she relates. But the impression created is that it was not possible to live in the GDR without experiencing this stress and hardship. This is where I regret very much that she had not herself lived there and experienced the good and ordinary things which could provide a counterbalance to the stories of pain she reports: those long tracts of life that consist simply of normality, of outings, get-togethers with family and friends, afternoons of leisure and idleness, playing sport, making music, the tedium of uninspiring workdays, the small but real everyday freedoms of a society without the pressures of the drive to make profits. To tell a story of unbroken oppression is to play to a western prejudice. In this I feel for my friends, former citizens of the GDR, who are constantly patronised by western attitudes which hold that, in a state where the Stasi was so active, people can have had no life worth living. Funder's book compounds this offence.

I found that living on the eastern side of the Wall threw into relief the ideological differences between the two systems which it divided. It was no longer possible to assume one's own thinking, as a product of the West, was in any sense unbiassed or neutral. Again Funder could have benefitted from this experience of relativity: her unspoken assumption is that the Federal Republic/the West has somehow 'got it right' and offers a viable measure against which the failures of the GDR can be assessed. This is to neglect the widespread idealism which helped to motivate the foundation and development of the GDR, an account of which would require much more historical analysis than Funder provides, her nods towards historical context being all too perfunctory and, perhaps, a little misleading: she conveys a sense that the Federal Republic did more to denazify than the GDR whereas in fact the opposite was the case.

It troubles me that responses to this book indicate that readers think they are being given 'the full story' or 'the truth' about the GDR when in fact what they are reading is a highly selective piece of journalism which concentrates on only the negative aspects.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Aug 2014 15:13:27 BDT
Technoquest says:
Thank you for your insight - I'd like to know more. Is there a book you would represent which provides the depth of evidence and balance which this one lacks?

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Oct 2014 06:50:23 BDT
Ivan says:
I gave up about one third the way through Stasiland and I agree very much with this review. A much better book is Mary Fulbrook's THE PEOPLE'S STATE The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker. Not an easy read (it is written by an academic for, I believe, an academic audience). But it is exhaustive and pragmatic. I use it as a reference book. As we all know there was a very dark side to the DDR but in the preface Fulbrook quotes East German sources who were "shocked by reports on the press and history books about how 'bad' their 'dictatorship' was - a sharp contradiction to their own memories of happy childhoods, and the 'perfectly normal lives' led by their parents, friends and relatives."
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