In the happy and relaxed environment of Janet's lounge recently we discussed the tortuous, weird and scary world of East Germany during the rule by the Stasi, 1949 - 1989, (the secret police of the Communist state). Overall assessment of the book was admiration for Anna Funder's writing style and also for her ability to honour the stories told to her without introducing her own agenda. Honesty and seediness is present -- it is left to the reader to draw her own conclusions.
It was noticed that most victims were women and mostly men were the perpetrators and Anna Funder managed to interview both, being sensitive and patient and tolerant no matter what was told to her. Truth was stranger than fiction in this time in Germany. The structure of the book is well thought out -- with a mix of victims and 'firm' recruits/employees stories being told. We even hear about how people were recruited and how one independent woman blew her cover at her factory -- if only more had been as brave and intelligent as her ! However not all were treated so kindly.
Some stories stand out, such as Miriam's, which begins and ends the book. 'She could have been responsible for the outbreak of civil war' (page 29) and yet she is willing to tell Anna about her involvement with the Stasi including having to make up stories in order to survive. There are the people who like to have an authoritarian ruler so they don't have to think and just do their job, it made them feel safe and everyone knew their place eg Hagen Koch. However even for him the resentment grew and he was able to grab some evidence of the craziness.
We felt amazement that people still could get on with their lives despite the conditions and the lack of information they had to cope with. The story of Julia and her Italian boyfriend is sad in lots of ways and the devastating effect on her, so she couldn't relate to men or authority or commitment later in life. The story of brave Frau Paul and her son removed to West Germany as a tiny baby only to be reunited a long time later with his parents. Frau Paul is keen to tell Anna the story so writes it down for her calling it 'The wall went straight through my heart'. How poignant ! Anna was a very empathetic listener.
This book is a great read, oral history with great substance.