Once upon a time, there was a reluctance to speak about the past for many ‘Ossis’, the residents of former East Germany. This makes Anna Funder’s narrative all the more mouthwatering.
“For anyone to understand a regime like the GDR (German Democratic Republic), the stories of ordinary people must be told. Not just the activists or the famous writers. You have to look at how normal people manage with such things in their pasts.” Funder’s words. And you realise how right she is.
Funder's book, Stasiland, is no ordinary piece of non-fiction. It reads like a novel but is a brilliant piece investigative journalism. Funder used classified ads to find ex-Stasi officials and such is her talent for delving deep into their psyche, you even understand how they succumbed to the GDR culture of paranoia, prying, spying and lying.
But it’s the ordinary stories which pack a punch. The central tale of Miriam and her murdered husband Charlie weaves its way throughout the book. For Miriam, closure is almost impossible, what with former Stasi members still living, shopping and drinking in her Berlin neighborhood.
Funder writes masterfully about informers, informants, botched escapes and lost lives in walled Berlin. Efficiently too. After describing the awfulness of Hohenschönhausen prison, she ends with “Not one of the torturers at Hohenschönhausen has been brought to justice". Stasiland is a reminder that when oppressive regimes end, victims must be heard. That means stories need be told and justice should be served.