Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Funder, Anna (2011): Stasiland - Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

What is it about?

The author reports about her encounters with people who lived in East Germany (i.e. GDR; German Democratic Republic) until its collapse in 1989-1990. More importantly, the author "tells the stories" of her informants as shared with her, which provide highly interesting windows into the everyday life in East Germany - in practice a police state.

Was it good?

I struggled a little with getting into the pace and narrative style of the book - the book is presented as case narratives within a larger autobiographical narrative - but after getting used to it, I really enjoyed the book.

Thus, at least for one not terribly familiar with the subject matter, the book offers a selection of quite captivating stories about what it was like to live in a police state "behind" the iron curtain. Moreover, the informants include both ordinary citizens as well as ex-Stasi officials.

The main take-away for me?

While the "this is how it felt living in a police state" narratives are interesting, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book was offered by those informants who perceive the "free" societal order as not preferable to the police state. Admittedly, there is a lot of nostalgia and selective forgetting going on there, but some of the aspects raised by the interviewees (e.g. lack of theft and other mundane security threats, affordability of various state-provided services etc.) are abound to make one think about what makes a society a good one. But then, all this and more can be accomplished by John Rawls' "Veil of ignorance".

Who should read the book?

I think that the book is beneficial for the younger generations who have very little if any connection, exposure or recollection about quite different societal orders - especially so that they would exist in the very heart of Europe. While fictional works such as Orwell's 1984 are highly illuminating, true stories have quite a different flavor to them.

The book on Stasiland

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