In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards, the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany.
In a country where the headquarters of the secret police could become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their fellow citizens, there are thousands of captivating stories. She meets Miriam, who, as a 16-year-old, might have started World War III; she visits the man who painted the line that became the Berlin Wall; and she gets drunk with the legendary "Mik Jegger" of the east, once declared by the authorities to his face to "no longer to exist."
Each enthralling story depicts what it's like to live in Berlin as the city knits itself back together - or fails to. This is a history full of emotion, attitude, and complexity.
©2003 Anna Funder; (P)2009 Audible
"A brilliant and necessary book about oppression and history...Here is someone who knows how to tell the truth." (Evening Standard - Books of the Year)
"A journey into the bizarre, scary, secret history of the former East Germany that is both relevant and riveting." (Sunday Times Travel Books of the Year)
"All this and much else comes wonderfully to life in Funder's racy account. The real heroes of the book and of the resistance are Miriam and her murdered husband Charlie. Miriam, a reluctant citizen of the GDR, whose story runs as a central strand throughout this gripping book, has reason to be bitter. East Germany cannot die for her while its bogeymen are still living in the same flats and drinking in the same pubs."(The Guardian)
I'm glad to hear that Ms. Funder is now writing fiction, because I think she's a good writer but not a great researcher. There has been a trend in the last decade to embrace the inevitable subjectivity of any research by confronting and including researcher's subjective experiences into the account of the investigation. Ms. Funder does this to such an extent that she becomes a central character in the narrative and her reactions, which she writes about very eloquently, tend to overshadow the product of her research. So the book becomes, not a documentation of the experiences of people who were either in the Stasi or victims of it, but of her reaction to meeting them.
I felt this book was okay, but simply did not have enough meat in it.
What is a really good British history book?
Frankly there wasn't much in this book that I didn't know already. In fact I have heard a great deal more in German magazines.
You cannot change the story, but as another reviewer already elquently stated, there needs to be more meat on this particular bone.
This really is something that I fail to understand. If I was the author or publisher or indeed the narrator, I would take the trouble of finding out how to pronounce German words. One of the key characters is Uwe. Every time the narrator got it wrong it irritated the hell out of me.
No, the whole Stasi story is peculiar to the Germans but the book did not tell me anything new
No, I really wanted to tlike this book and it disappointed me somewhat.
Well written and read but the book is more about the writer and her time in Germany trying to be a non fiction writer. Way too much filler where the writer describes how she feels, what she's thinking or how the light shines on this and that. There is some interesting stuff in there but its not detailed and not based on fact in the main.
This is a great read and uniquely written. Whilst you do learn much of the Stasi workings and general DDR state it is told by way of interesting encouters between the author and former East German subjects and Stasi members. Despite the nature of the subject matter it flows and is not the heavy read you may expect. You would need some level of interest in the times but it is a fresh take on the historical text. Highly recommended.
This non-fiction work is a remarkable journey through the archives and, mostly, memories of people who lived through one of the world's most repressive states. It traces the experiences of ordinary people and of agents of East German State Security (Stasi), throughout that sickening Communist regime, which employed or coerced people to spy on citizens, to an estimated one 'spy' for every 6.5 others.
The book tells of attempts to escape the government strangle-hold on everyone's daily life, of the inhumane methods the Stasi used to force people to spy on their friends, neighbours, and acquaintances... and of the dire consequences of refusal.
This well-written book will open your eyes to a true Orwellian state.
My only criticisms of the audiobook are that the reader, who does an excellent job, doesn't pronounce the German words correctly, missed out at least one sentence, and occasionally misspeaks 'a' for 'the', and the author's Anglicisation of 'Straße' as 'Street'.
All in all, this book is excellent. It's definitely worth reading.
The ferociously inhumane efficiency of the STASI is terrifyingly delineated by Anna Funder. Her focus on the effects of this regime on ordinary people is a great way to humanise and universalise this dreadful regime's activities.
Good pace. Engaging. Very keen to continue listening
The story about her landlady and how her career seems to have been influenced by the Stasi
Well read and acted
Lives made and lost behind the iron curtain!
I would, and indeed have, because as well as telling a good story, there is some excellent, descriptive writing, and I wasn't surprised to hear that the author has since published some fiction.
Not technically a character as she's a real person, but the most complex was Julia, the author's landlady. However, I think part of the reason that she had so much depth was because of the excellent way in which she was narrated.
Unsurprisingly, the stories of some of the former East Germans evoked sympathy, but I was a little more surprised that another major emotion that came through was the author's frustration at certain aspects of living in modern day Germany. A scene when she goes swimming at a public pool, only to be told that she cannot swim because she has come at the wrong time, or the right time of the wrong day, could have been something out of the BBC programme 'From our own correspondent', which is a favourite of mine.
I can understand the comments that some reviewers have made about the relatively large amount of material about the author's life, rather than that of her subjects. But I didn't find that these sections made it a worse book, because those sections were well-written.
One minor criticism is that I don't believe that the author was really able to get into the heads of the former Stasi officers that she interviewed. But this would obviously be a very difficult thing to do, and perhaps impossible given the very different upbringings and characters that the author and the interview subjects would have had.
Anna Funder herself. I thought she was incredibly brave, the way she interviewed some of the top Stasi people, some still dangerous. Also, the sensitive way she interviewed the shattered victims. The whole system of government she describes, is one of institutionalized sadism, to a degree which appears almost satanic. The lengths the Stasi were willing to go to on the slightest suspicion of some disloyalty to the State, real or imagined, literally beggar the imagination. I listened twice, mightily impressed with the way some of the survivors managed to rebuild their lives. Also, there was a message: a police state can happen whenever ordinary people stop defending their rights. Everyone needs to read this.
When Koch describes how he and his wife remarried after his wife was forced by the Stasi to divorce him. They threatened to take her child away from her if she did not, so she unwillingly agreed. Luckily their little son described to his embittered father what really went on, and they eventually managed to reunite.
When Frau Paul refused to inform on the student who helped people escape to the West. As a result, she was not permitted to visit her sick baby son in hospital on the other side of the Wall, whom she had not seen for a long time. It was hateful the way they played with her and gives one a glimpse of the depths they would resort to.
This is a book written by a highly intelligent, perceptive woman. I plan to buy the book, it's something I'd like to keep.
Anna Funder visits what was East Germany, armed with fluent German and knowledge of international law. She listens to the stories of those who endured immense pain at the hand of the Stasi, the regime which replaced Hitler as dictators of this part of Germany. She also listened with undisguised amazement and horror, to the world view and self justifications of some of the Stasi themselves. In Stasiland she portrays a society imprisoned by the notorious Wall as well as webs of betrayal, lies, mental and emotional torture.
This is neither sensationalist or a horror story. It is an intelligent, measured exploration of the extremes of human nature, from bravery and the capacity for endurance, to the self delusion and cruelty of dictators. It reveals the insidious ways that a people can be controlled through their minds -- in effect, life was simple if everyone capitulated without question to the arbitrary, contradictory, the blatantly ridiculous. In return, citizens were given apparent certainties in housing, employment and health, certainties which some now mourn.
This is a shared personal journey and the narrator, Denica Fairman, offers a reading that works as an outstanding partnership with Funder.
Stasiland not only delves into recent history, but places before the reader the realities of human nature that contribute to human society -- from small communities to whole nations.
"Author's narcissism blights otherwise good account"
This book is indeed laced with riveting accounts from ex-Stasi and the people they oppressed. You'll hear tense stories of teenage girls sneaking past dogs to jump the wall, meet with greying old ex-Stasi pensioners who reminisce about striking fear into the hearts of their neighbours and get an intimate sense of the surreal details of East German life that are even now being forgotten. But to get to these portions, you'll have to spend hours listening to Ms. Funder describe the inside of her Berlin apartment, detail her urban malaise, outline the workplace tensions at her public broadcasting job, etc. These plodding (and frequent) sections read like passages from a teenager's travel blog, and it's frustrating to think that Ms. Funder decided that the minutiae of her Berlin existence deserved equal billing beside the incredible stories told by her various sources. If a better (and more humble) writer had had access to the sources available to Ms. Funder, this book could have been a Pulitzer Prize winner. But as it stands, this is not the definitive account of East German life you're looking for.
"Small people crushed by the events of time"
This book is a valauble addition to the Audible line of books. It depicts how ordinary people - none of them really political activists - acted against the oppression of Communist East Germany. At times it is more suspensful than many suspense novels, even without having had that intention. The portraits are great and you really get to know these people - or at least you wish that you had known them.
I read this right after reading “The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989” by Frederick Taylor in the hopes that it would give me more of a people’s view rather then a politician’s view of life - and it did. I could have done without author’s story of how she went about writing the book itself, but still – I got what I wanted out of it and enjoyed it very much.
"an excellent book"
Maybe it is because I too moved to Germany rather spontaneously, and ended up finding so much meaning here, that this book is not only one of the best I have ever ordered from Audible, but is also one of the best books of my experience. For anyone with an interest in modern German history, this book brings so much life and so many thought-provoking examples to the facts and figures of communist East Germany. The book is both emotionally and intellectually superb.
"A stunning achievement."
This penetrating look at life in East Germany, seen from the perspective of an outsider, is saturated in heartbreak, courage and a fractured senses of safety.
"Peeking behind the curtain"
I don't often read non fiction so this was a real surprise - it has to rank up there with the best eye-witness accounts of the life experiences of people surviving in such different circumstances from my own. The generosity of of people to disclose such painful, sometimes humiliating experiences is a testament to the Anna Funder's capacity to retell - and in another language!
Walking through the Stasi prison with a victim-guide kept my emotions dancing on hot coals all night.
What made the performance so good was the excellent pronunciation by Denica Fairman - getting things right. More often a story has been spoilt by the laziness of a performer failing to pronounce names and places correctly. The tone and spareness of the narration fully enabled the engagement of an over-active imagination like mine.
I had to hold my breath when Anna, with brutal insight and honesty, met with each informant.
I had heard Anna Funder interviewed on radio a couple of times and it took me a few years to tackle the book. Brilliant.
I seldom read anything twice.
When one of the main persons are taken in for interrogation about her love letters to a long gone boyfriend.
The great something watching over you
The narrator is really fantastic.
"Personal Interviews with former GDR citizens"
Conversations with citizens of the former GDR. Very little statistical information of the former East Germany. Leaves you wanting much more. "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea " is a much more interesting book in my view. Beware, Stasiland has some content not suitable for children.
"Great stories, great writing"
Was headed to Berlin for a couple weeks and trying to capture a bit of the vibe of the city. No WWII stuff, more contemporary. This book was an excellent and synchronous choice. Funder is full of magic moments and the varied stories of former GDR citizens and authorities paint a good range of sentiment and perspective. Also rife with geographic reference, museums, etc. that I enjoyed tracking down as well. It really made my trip that much greater with some background on the gravity of certain places and situations. Funder's writing is excellent throughout and while keeping a generally straightforward approach, there are liberal flourishes of beautiful insight and stolen moments.
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