Friday, May 26, 2017

Five top books on modern Germany history

Hester Vaizey is a lecturer in Modern European History, and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. Her books include Surviving Hitler's War, Keep Britain Tidy and other posters from the Nanny State, and Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall. One of her five best books on modern Germany history, as discussed with Sophie Roell at Five Books:
Anna Funder's Stasiland (2002)

Stasiland is written by a journalist from Australia, Anna Funder, who moved over to Germany just after the wall fell. She placed an advert in the newspaper asking to speak to old Stasi officials.

Nearly one in seven people informed for the Stasi. There were 91,000 full-time employees, whereas the Gestapo had more like 7000. It was so pervasive. People love all the gory details of how the Stasi wired people’s houses, tapped their phones, collected smell samples from suspects in jars with the idea that sniffer dogs might be able to track their movements, all sorts of crazy spy equipment that feels so foreign to our world—although with Edward Snowden, perhaps not. She really brings all of that to life.

Her book is a collection of stories about people whose lives have been affected by the Stasi. She describes the whole process, from the correspondence she has with them and how she feels about what they’re saying.

For example, she agrees to meet a man under a clock and he’ll have a newspaper under his arm—this is pre-mobile phone. And she sits down opposite him, and she describes the whole thing—not just what he says about being a Stasi officer. It’s very lively and journalistic in its style. It really brings to life elements of life with the Stasi and made me particularly interested in life in East Germany. Her whole approach of interviewing and reporting on the experience of the interview as well as the content was the approach that I used in my own book.

I suppose, in my book, I was trying to report more of a range of experiences of life, the people who have more positive experiences too. But her book prompted me to delve into this area and I love her writing style.
Read about another book Vaizey tagged at the Five Books website.

Stasiland is among Steve Kettmann's ten best books on Germans and Germany.

--Marshal Zeringue