On Books is a new literature review series by NPR Berlin made possible in part by Shakespeare & Sons. This review will air on NPR Berlin 104,1 FM during Morning Edition on Friday, July 1st at 11:49 AM.
In the winter of 1996, on the train from Berlin to Leipzig, the Australian journalist Anna Funder recounts the first time she took this trip. Here, she was confronted with the aftermath of the German Democratic Republic – and with the gruesome story of Miriam, a young woman whose husband died in a Stasi prison. Haunted by that very experience, she decides to write about this very disturbing part in recent German history.
Funder's book, Stasiland, gathers her personal, gripping encounters with those who witnessed the practices of the GDR first hand. Only a few years after the reunion, many of them are still suffering from the psychological and physical trauma caused by constant surveillance and distrust: Miriam, who the author always returns to throughout the book, was tortured after trying to escape to West Germany. But there are also figures like the former Stasi officer, Herr Bock, who still believes in the system he helped to sustain for so long.
Instead of trying to answer the question of how something like this could have happened, Funder's moving account of a country still healing gives room to many different points of view without ever favoring one over the other. Drawing delicate connections between victims and perpetrators, it becomes evident that more than twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, closure is still far away.