19 November 2015


More than the more-famed Nazi history, I have been since the 90s drawn to its lesser-known, more efficient and brutal sibling, the Stasi history.

In the 40 years after the fall of Nazi Regime, the socialist communists of post-war Germany, with rabid support from the erst-while USSR, had organised a more Orwellian state than you could ever imagine, dividing a city with a wall, cleaving a nation, culture, race, families, relations with an ideology and ruling with an ironer fist called Staatssicherheit - the State Security Police. Welcome to the DDR - the Deutsche Demokratische Republic or East Germany.

I was first made aware of the reality, in person, on my first day of a year's sojourn in Magdeburg, in 1995. I had been there to bring about my doctoral research period partially, doing research, working as research assistant to one of my mentors, Dr. Bernd-Peter Lange, at the Institut fuer fremdsprachige Philologien, Uni Magdeburg.

The Wall had fallen in 1989, although. I was visiting almost 6 and half years later. Yet, one could smell the remnants. It was a Schadenfreude as the Germans call it. Self. I was depressed, yet happy. I was living in the recent shadows and experiencing urgent leftovers of history. More of my personal experiences in these pages as we go down the days, months, years! Now to the context of the heading of this post.

My second Annaeherung or Encountering with East Germany was through what I consider a phenomenally moving work of fiction - BRANDENBURG by Henry Porter. A must-read for anyone interested in the special events on the streets of Leipzig that led to the breakdown of the most ruthlessly efficiently run State machinery called Stasi and DDR.

My third encounter was that iconic work of film - The Lives of Others. And then, of course, my all time favourite work on Germany - past and present - a must-must-must watch movie: GOOD BYE, LENIN!

None of these had prepared me for what I bargained to pick up almost 4 years after its publication, when I casually was  browsing the bookshelves at Anokhi, Chamiers Road, Chennai. I was drawn by the title - STASILAND by Anna Funder. I read it. Awe-inspired. I could smell the Alexanderplatz, feel Marzahn under my skin, physically relive my several Magdeburg-Berlin as well as Magdeburg-Leipzig journeys as I read it. I had met some friends who had recounted some stuff their parents had shared with them, then, in 1995. They were themselves too young to have gone through the SS machinery... and they were harrowing enough. I had had some of my professor friends - both East and West - talk to me of stuff I would like to just retain as stuff. Do not ever want to think these existed. But reading Anna Funder brought a different dimension with her visceral style of Capotean narrative. It was indeed in cold blood... but there were a lot of lumps in my throat through my journey of the book. That was around 2007. And then the effect lasted a few days. Then other books took over my palate and it just went and joined the other frozen seas on my rack.

Until recently, for research purpose, I refreshed my memory. Reread the book. A different experience the second time. It has awoke in me the last week different, long-forgotten, entrenched in sub-conscious memories and experiences of the 95-96 Germany. I am now slightly more objective to run them in my mind's eye. And the story of Miriam is fast shaping up in to a stage-play. I hope to write to Ms. Funder to tell her what a fantastic writer she is... not to please her to give me permission to adapt part of it for stage, but because I genuinely feel so. Few books have the capability to move you beyond words... and among those few, non-fictional works are far among few... this is one.

These are days of non-fiction what with Samuel Johnson Prize being the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But but but... Anna Funder's STASILAND is a unique work. Go on and pick it, without any hesitation.

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