Stasiland/Anna Funder: Brief Reflections

Friday, December 23, 2011

And so I began to order books about Berlin—dozens of them.  And day after day after day they arrived, gifts to myself in a frantic season.  I read the arcane text books, flip through the second-hand photo albums, study a self-published, printed-upon-my-demand memoir that could not be more ripe with detail, and rise, very early today, to read Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall.

Let's just say that, despite the fact that this book has been translated into 20 countries and won prestigious prizes, I was not prepared for the stunning depth of research here nor the profoundly beautiful shape of the sentences. This is a book by a woman who set out to tell the real stories of those who were both condemned by the wall and protectors of it.  There is, as the flap copy tells us, "the heartbreaking story of Frau Paul, who was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall."  There is the story of the "Mik Jegger of the East." There is an old woman, Miriam, who was once 16 and determined to flee.  She nearly made it; she was almost there; she was imprisoned and tortured instead.

Anna Funder, the author of this exquisite book, is an Australian by birth.  She gained an outsider's inside view.  Every single sentence here is designed, thought through.  Listen:

I pour more beer. It's the second, or maybe the third, and it is loosening up the afternoon. For a moment I am an eye in the ceiling corner. I see two women, like reflections of one another, at an old table in an old kitchen in East Berlin. One has her sleeves rolled up, the other draws her black jumper over her fists, bringing them out only to smoke. This rooms seems small shelter from the outside world because the colours of the yard have seeped in here, grey and brown—apart from the tiny blue pilot light above the sink, and the remains of pink sauce in a pan.

Stasiland was originally published in Australia and the UK in 2003. Perhaps, I thought, there had been something new from this author in the meantime.  (A girl could hope.)  A touch of a few buttons, and there was the welcome news.  Anna Funder does indeed have a brand new book—a first novel based on fact, called All That I Am.  You can learn more about it here, even listen to this beautiful writer talk.

Anyone interested in the surprising reach of the Nazi past, anyone who loves a real writer, should be as tempted as I am to buy it.

(I'm not just tempted, of course.  I will buy it when it is released by Harper in February of next year.)


Melissa Sarno said...

This comment doesn't really have anything to do with this post. Reading it reminded me, just this second, of this exhibit at the Newseum in DC. Which is really great and you should go. I'll go with you :)

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh, and this,

Serena said...

Anna and I are fascinated by the Nazi past and its pervasiveness socially and politically.

I hope you and your family have a great Christmas.

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