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on 25 August 2017
This was very fine - thank you for your impeccable service!
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on 25 August 2017
Excellent stories, superbly written and researched. Sparked my interest to find out more about the subject and buy more books on the matter.
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On the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is hard to imagine that the German Democratic Republic ever existed. On the day before the wall fell, it was hard to imagine it could ever end.

Younger readers may not appreciate just how impenetrable the wall seemed. If you were behind the wall, you stayed behind the wall. There were no east European visitors to the west, and precious few western visitors to the east. Of all the eastern bloc nations, East Germany seemed to be the strictest, most monolithic of the lot. The wall was their public face. When the wall fell, the Federal Republic of Germany quickly subsumed its eastern counterpart; there were stories of poverty and skinheads, but the history of the GDR was quickly wiped from both books and minds.

So it is interesting to read Anna Funder’s account of time spent living in the former GDR in the 1990s, meeting some of the people whose lives had been affected by the Ministry for State Security – or Stasi as it was commonly known. It is clear that Funder has a particular agenda – that the Stasi were monstrous and that the socialist system was an abomination – but through the people’s stories, a more subtle picture emerges. We see a government that was bound by rules and protocols that sometimes applied. We see a multi-party democracy that was encouraged to exist as long as it was ineffective. We see a population that had a sense of fair play and, even within the socialist system, was willing to challenge and push boundaries. We also saw a border that was more permeable than many people thought, with annual trade conventions bringing western visitors; day trippers through Checkpoint Charlie; and dissident easterners sold to the west for hard currency. The baddies – Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke (Head of State and Minister of State Security respectively) are brought to life and seen as real people with real personalities rather than just faces on posters and posed photographs.

The strongest story by a long distance is Miriam, a young woman who got into trouble for political activity whilst still at school. Her story continues throughout the book. There are other characters, some memorable and others less so. Funder’s landlord Julia had her own story to tell – a sort of Miriamesque story. There were others who had been Stasi employees or casual informants. Some were repentant, others defiant. Some characters had made the adjustment to the new world order successfully; others had struggled. My favourite, though, was the East German radio commentator Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, notorious for his defence of shoot to kill policies for escapees and still predicting a revival of the socialist state despite being unable to show his face in public.

Some readers have criticised Funder’s gonzo approach to the book. She is very much in stage centre; the book is as much about Funder’s journey of discovery as it is about those she discovered. It’s a matter of judgement, but the balance feels right. Funder’s experience of brown lino, concrete walls and nights in the beer cellars adds a depth and colour to the stories. It creates a narrative drive that makes the book flow and feel less like a parade of shocking facts. It also allows the insertion of an editorial direction; it lets Funder explain the wider political context; events of national importance or historical significance without clumsily placing them in the mouths of her interviewees.

If I do have a beef, it is that sometimes the editorialising is take too far and conclusions are set out in black an white when they might have had a stronger impact if readers had been able to figure them out for themselves.

Stasiland is as successful a collection of personal narratives as I can remember reading. The subject matter is inherently interesting and shocking; the field is largely unexplored elsewhere; the structure works well and the writing is engaging.
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on 26 August 2003
I read this book in order to help me gain a knowledge of life in Cold War East Germany. The book is a fascinating insight into the way the Stasi (State Secret police) affected everyone's lives. Citizens were manipulated into helping the Stasi, but it had many willing members too. The book follows the author as she meets those who have been affected by the Stasi. One woman's husband was taken away and presumably murdered for seemingly acting against the state and there are examples of those who were high-powered members of the Stasi who found it difficult to adjust following the Wall's collapse. Definitely recommended as the book is fascinating, though to be honest I didn't find it that useful as a history resource. An interesting read.
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on 2 June 2017
This was a 'follow up' as having read the similar publication "Stasi State or Socialist Paradise - the GDR & what became of it" I was not satisfied, as my review of that book makes clear. I wanted to learn more about life within the GDR, a little of which I had experienced, including my wife who was from a family divided by the 'Iron curtain'. 'Stasiland' is just that - a series of vignettes derived from interviews with residents & former officials of the GDR. The author is not German, which may or may not be relevant, but is not as overtly biased as the other publication above, which is a paean of praise for socialism from UK 'left-wingers'. So for me "Stasiland" is closer to my image & experiences of GDR life. Again, I recommend the German film "Bornholmer Strasse" a post unification tragic-comedy of how the border gate was opened in November 1989. This film gives the real feeling of the culture & atmosphere of the time. The author's style is more 'jerky' than flowing prose, but it fits well into the situations described. Highly recommended - read this one in preference to the the other. George Orwell's 1984 was oh so close to the mark!
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on 12 November 2016
An excellent and informative book
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on 2 May 2017
Great transaction and a brilliant read!!
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on 4 May 2017
Excellent read
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2009
Anna Funder, of German descent but born in Australia, came to the former German Democratic Republic (or East Germany) to find out what it was like for ordinary people to live in a regime that is estimated to have had approximately 50 per cent of its inhabitants under surveillance at one time or another. What emerges is a devastating picture of what Funder describes as `internal exile' - an anomie that allowed no outward sign of the rejection they must have felt from the culture and economy they were forced to support. Moving and mind-boggling, the stories of the people forced to remain in such a country defy credibility, yet they are true, as the records testify.

Some stories are heartbreaking - particularly that of Frau Paul, whose baby was in a Western hospital when the wall went up, literally overnight. Denied permission to visit him, except on four occasions, she was later given a chance to leave illegally, but it went wrong at the last moment. From that time her life was taken away from her and she was later imprisoned and subjected to torture. Even so, this brave woman refused to betray a foreigner who had tried to help in her escape. The picture given of this broken, humiliated human being is, on its own, a savage indictment of what was done in the name of the GDR.

Writing of former Stasi officers Anna Funder gives them atmosphere, light and shade, so that it is possible to see that people may be flawed, even pitiable, and may find themselves supporting monstrous acts, but are, at heart, not monsters, however much in thrall they may be to an emotionally bankrupt creed. This is a compelling and resonant book.
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on 2 September 2014
This was a fascinating collection of stories that seemed almost like fiction instead of true revelations of first person accounts in East Germany. I enjoyed the movie, Goodbye Lenin, and this was a totally different perspective on life behind the Iron Curtain in the former GDR. Humor seemed a fitting way to cope with the absurdity of everyday life that citizens obviously had to endure with the Stasi presence. An exceptionally well done book !
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