Confession time. Since 2009 I have kept an excel spreadsheet of every book I have read. I list the name, author, category and date I finished it. A few years on, it has been fascinating what took my fancy at any given moment in time. As part of the spread sheet I have a separate tab ‘to read’ which lists all the books I want to read. This list is a discombobulated jumble of books either recommended by friends, book reviews or articles. This list obviously grows faster than the list of ‘read’ books and there is no rhyme or reason as to order. Some I fear may stay on the ‘to read’ list for many years!
Stasiland had been on my must-read list for some time but was regrettably usurped time and time again by other books. After reading this book in my Christmas break (a couple of Christmas breaks ago), I now realise what a diabolical mistake this was. Stasliand is brilliant. Funder manages to create a piece of non-fiction that reads like a novel. Her personal and touching anecdotes do not obscure depth or importance of the information presented, they add to it. (This is the polar opposite to how I felt about Laurent Binet injecting himself into HHhH but I’ll write about that another time).
The premise of Stasiland is to discover the untold stories of what it was like living under communist rule in the former East Germany. We all know the big picture: Germany loses WWII, the world is divided along ideological lines, so too does Germany become divided. But what Funder uncovers in Stasliand are the personal stories of those who didn’t necessarily share the dominant ideology in East Germany but are affected by its constraints nonetheless. The Stasi, or secret police, appear in every tale and anecdote with varying effects on those they subjugated.
I have come to believe that micro histories really do illuminate big macro histories. Any study of a moment in time is all the more richer for reading about the personal anecdotes of those who lived through it. Stasiland succeeds in proving the case for micro histories brilliantly. There is the irrepressible Miriam who became an ‘enemy of the state’ at sixteen. The death of her husband in custody is mysterious and unsolved. The brilliant Klaus, an aged rocker, who only wanted to make music but is now stilted and anti-social. And Hagen Koch – nice guy who joined the Stasi.
Anyone interested in European history, politics or personal tales overcoming adversity should read this book. The facts are compelling. The personal spin will grip your heart. And now I want to go to Germany.
Back to the spreadsheet.