To me, someone born three years after the Berlin Wall fell, East Germany seems like a mythical place; a whole country continually blanketed in clouds, full of spies, and if you look at it just right, tinted hammer-and-sickle red. So naturally, I was excited to delve into the stories of folks who had lived under such a totalitarian regime, and that’s exactly what you will get in Stasiland by Anna Funder. Instead of providing a bird’s eye view of the GDR supported by blocks of dense statistics, Funder uses a first-person narrative of her quest to interview ordinary people who survived the regime. This approach removes the distance between the stories and people portrayed and the reader, allowing Stasiland to be suspenseful, puzzling, and even heartbreaking to read.
Although I am only halfway through it so far, one of the most interesting things about Stasiland is the lack of resolution in the fall of the GDR. Unlike other regimes, the Stasi did not fall to violent revolution or war, but rather peaceful demonstrations and occupations. Many of the people interviewed (and sometimes Anna herself) seem surprised that a government that committed such cruel acts just… ceased to be so quickly. The lack of closure is palpable in Miriam’s tale, as she struggles to rebuild her life after the people who destroyed it effectively slid back into civilian life without punishment. To put it simply, this book is just necessary. These stories need to be told and learned from, so we don’t repeat them.
Maddie’s playlist for reading Stasiland:
“James Bond Theme” – Monty Norman
“Azche zu Azche” – Rammstein
“Smells like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana
“House of Cards” – Radiohead
“Head like a Hole” – Nine Inch Nails
“Caring is Creepy” – The Shins