I’d spotted Stasiland around 8 months back while rummaging through the intoxicating bookstore Shakespeare & Sons, located at a quieter alley in the otherwise lively Mala Strana, and I’d known right away that I’d read this book soon. The Ministry for State Security, better known as Stasi, created a near-perfect physical manifestation of the dystopian, Orwellian world of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the erstwhile GDR or East Germany; ironically, it also provided a disconcerting mirror into the future where mass surveillance by governments on the private lives of its citizens is seen by most as an accepted norm, and perhaps even a necessary one. Like The Wall Jumper, Peter Schneider’s mesmerizing hyperlinked non-fiction account of life in divided Berlin, this gripping polyvocal journalistic novel written by Anna Funder – the form immediately reminded me of Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys, with this being more spunky, and more personal too – takes its readers behind the Iron Curtain into a world where nearly every aspect of nearly everyone’s lives were followed and chronicled with clinical efficiency by the state secret police. Funder, while working at a TV company in Berlin after the Berlin Wall had fallen, felt the urge to chronicle about this world and the myriad stories of lives irrevocably changed by the deeply insecure regime but left to be lost to time – deeply human tales of people who are left scarred for their lives, unreconciled to their memories, still seeking answers, striving to ensure history is not forgotten, and, in the case of former Stasi men, callous, unrepentant, or even hoodwinked themselves. Through these tales which are disturbing, infuriating, heartbreaking, and at times, darkly funny, and interspersed with the author’s wry observations, disarming style and superb storytelling, one is plunged right into the bleak and colourless Cold War zeitgeist of East Germany, with its misinformation, disinformation, mistrust, paranoia, bureaucratic machinery, moody atmosphere, strange ironies and a Big Brother that had all its people under constant watch.
Author: Anna Funder
Genre: Non-Fiction/Political History/Montage