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03 March 2013

'Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall' by Anna Funder

This book is about the impermanence of political structures, about the price of a soul, about the innocence of children and the love of parents.  It should not be forgotten.

I have lived in Germany longer than I have lived in any other country, including the one on my passport.  It is ironic given that neither my husband nor I have family or other attachments here.  It is a convenient place to live, is the best I can say about this situation.  It is also a safe, healthy place full of beautiful trees.  In any case, I have been able to observe Germans in their natural habitat for some time now.  As a group they are slow to warm up but loyal once you are indeed a friend, on a first name basis (don't laugh, long story about the use of names).  I am privileged to have several German friends.

It is my habit to be careful about certain topics but (I hope) polite and inquisitive at the same time... What's the point of being here if I can't eventually, you know, ask...  And so the National Socialists turn up in conversation.  No Problem!  My friends are often relieved, yes lets discuss those bygone days...  Then I mention East Germany.

There is usually a moment of embarrassment.  Of course the notorious Wall was awful, almost ridiculous.  If I ask about more details there are often excuses but no real discussion.   Sometimes kids blame the teacher for a bad grade.  And in truth there are bad teachers in this world.  It happens.  A bad teacher does not justify my own disinterest or lack of effort, though.  What I mean is that many could not do much about the political situation called The Cold War.  Many on the West side did their best to help people on the East side.  But as far as I can tell, people have done their best to forget or ignore the German Democratic Republic since 1989, like many would, a bad teacher.  The rest of Germany does not want to know more.  The mentality is that Germany is whole now, therefore healthy.  I hope my friends do not resent this description but it is accurate.

Then another foreigner who has lived here a long, long time handed me this book.  I am grateful.  The book begins with a hung-over journalist.  She wants to investigate and write about the people from East Germany. Not the politics. The people who lived in the shadow of a wall and could not trust anyone, ever.  Anna Funder's interviews are successful because she listens to what is consciously given and willingly shared. Not what is taken and recorded to use and twist.  It was shocking to see the effects of hyper surveillance on the psyche of a whole society.  The lack of privacy was obscene.  It puts me in mind of the arguments for and against privacy in the internet.  Eventually, people are not for sale.  Privacy and intimacy are worth more than quick results on the search page and what you can sell me there.  This book is not about the past it is about our future.  It is about the impermanence of political structures, about the price of a soul, about the innocence of children and the love of parents.  It should not be forgotten.
Suspicion was a sign of guilt and the punishment even to children lasted a lifetime.  These people are now free.  I wish.  Torturers, spies and vicious prison wardens have not been brought to justice.  Many politicians kept their old jobs with new titles.  Many of them are still alive.  Freedom does not happen when you remove the shackles or tear down the wall, but when you free the mind.  If you see the same person that tortured and raped you in jail shopping at your local then maybe free is too abstract a concept.  Anna Funder touches on the concepts of justice, fairness, closure, hope and despair.  She tells stories and uncovers wounds that do not heal.  By the end of the book I feel she deserved a drink now and again.  This book is required reading.

Anna Funder 
ISBN: 9781847083357 

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