Anna Funder's Stasiland follows her life in Berlin as she investigates Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall, and the lasting damage perpetrated by the GDR's Ministry for State Security – the Stasi. The structure is fluid, like a travelogue or diary, and yet what emerges is a clear picture of Germany: its people and politics, past and present.
The book opens in 1996; seven years have passed since the Reunification of Germany, yet Berlin is still in many ways a divided city. Anna Funder is working in television in West Berlin, but questions are mounting in her mind about the authoritarian government of the former GDR. Her interest is piqued when she hears the astonishing story of Miriam Weber who, aged only sixteen, made an attempt to go over the Wall. Some years later, Miriam's husband died, tragically and mysteriously, in a Stasi remand cell. Her tale of courage and resistance sets Funder off on her adventures in Stasiland: in the former Stasi Headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg and Leipzig, and the File Authority near Nuremberg.
In conversations with her good friend Klaus and her landlord Julia, she learns of lives profoundly invaded and disrupted by the Stasi. Then there is Frau Sigrid Paul: separated from her sick baby when the Wall was built, she ended up in Hohenschönhausen prison. Thirty-five years on, she is a broken woman, still trying to hold back the tears.
Seeking a fuller story, Funder places an advert in the personals section of a newspaper, requesting interviews with 'former Stasi officers and unofficial collaborators'. Her call is readily answered. She meets the respondents in dingy pubs, behind blacked-out car windows, and in unlit suburban rooms. These ex-Stasi range from communist propagandists to memorabilia fanatics, and include victims swept up in something far beyond their control.
Returning to Germany in springtime, Funder stumbles across a new museum of contemporary history in Leipzig. But she concludes that there is something very wrong with putting such recent history behind glass, when nothing has been resolved. She argues that wounds are still raw in a country where ex-Stasi thrive in good jobs, and justice has not yet been done; important questions remain to be asked, let alone answered.
Ref: Stasiland by Anna Funder 2012, Book Drum, accessed 21 November 2012, <http://www.bookdrum.com/books/stasiland/9781862076556/index.html>.
1. Consider the structure of the text. Why might Funder begin and conclude with Miriam"s story? (Passages 1,2 3)
2. How might Funder's narrative style influence the reader's perception of 'Stasiland' (the place/world of the text) (Passages 7, 8)
3. How do humour, irony and absurdity serve to make meaning, to expose, to condemn in Stasiland? (Passages 4,5,6,7)
4.How does Funder use metaphor to convey a range of ideas and values? (Passages 4,7,9)
5. How might Funder's views and values influence the reader's perception of the former GDR, the 'victims' and the 'perpetrators'? P86,251
Stasiland cliff notes and summaries available for this book. if there is a Stasiland Spark Notes or other study guide from a major provider, we will link to it on this page. Depending on the book notes provider, the below link will generally offer Stasiland chapter summaries as well as detailed analysis of themes, characters, and literary criticism.
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Journeymanpictures, 2007, Stasiland, online video, Sept 4, accessed 21 November 2012, <http://youtu.be/mrMAvy_Aoak>.
Anna Funder’s first novel All That I Am tells the story of Hitler’s rise to power from the other side of the English channel where, in 1939, British ears are firmly closed to predictions of unfolding Nazi brutality and impending genocide.
All That I Am weaves together three different time zones and continents, making impossible questions pertinent: Why didn’t people listen? How could things have been different?
The story is a masterful, exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs, and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places.
A mesmerising portrait of the secret police who ruled East Germany in the Cold War years, and the victims who for whatever reason were unlucky enough to draw their attention. Stasiland gathers together memories of that time and its aftermath from people who lived through it, from ex-Stasi officers, and from the author herself.
Why you should read it
Anna Funder was born in Melbourne in 1966, and grew up both there and in Paris. Later, she studied Law and German at the University of Melbourne. She is fluent in German and French.
In 1987, Anna Funder was awarded a DAAD scholarship (German Academic Exchange Service), which enabled her to study at the Freie Universität in Berlin. There she came into contact with former residents of East Germany and began to wonder what life was like on the other side of the Wall.
Funder went on to work as a documentary producer for ABC in Australia, and as a researcher and translator for Deutsche Welle Television. Presented with the Felix Meyer Creative Writing award, the Australian German Association Fellowship, an Arts Victoria literature grant, and the position of Writer-in-Residence at the Australia Centre within the University of Potsdam, she was able to write her first book: Stasiland. It opens with her return to Berlin in 1996, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communist East Germany. Through various interviews – from covert meetings behind blacked-out windows, to extended drinking sessions with friends – she begins to piece together a story.
Stasiland was first published in Australia in 2002, by Text Publishing. Other countries followed, including the UK and USA (Granta) and Holland (Ambo Anthos). A small Berlin house eventually published the book, but on a brief tour in Germany Anna Funder was given a hostile reception – she writes about it here. A fascinating article from the Sydney Pen Magazine (p20) explores the complications involved in translating Stasiland into German.
Here are a few things you might want to take note of.
1. Imagery is extremely important and you ought to analyse the reccurent motifs or colour schemes within the text.
2. You're going to need to think hard about what you think Funder's stance is in the text- It's not as obvious as you think.
3. Then you need to assess how she attempts to implement such 'slight' bias into the text whilst retaining a sense of fact and information in the text. E.g, The text is almost non-fiction, bar these inputs from Funder, which shows that if she was attempting to present this book as factual it is almost a facade amidst her own observations and input in the text.
4. Which leads to a very obvious and critical part that must be in your close reading- How do these little narrations and side-tracked observations affect the reader when reading the text and a) introduce Funder's perspective and opinion, b) influence us subtly and almost I think, sneakily?
5. The most difficult part of Stasiland is to think of a reason for WHY Funder wrote the novel. Don't just say to inform us, the Western reader. It goes far deeper than that I think. It delves into the psychology of suppressing trauma instead of remembering, instead of progressing by working through such experience, it delves into WHY we as humans have a certain type of Mindset, or even more specific than that, why the Germans have this mindset, why the "german" experience is another world of its own.
6. Then you'll need to make up a choice- Is this text exploring such issues enclosing it decisively within the world of Germany, with the stance that what happened is a uniquely German phenomenon, isolated to German experience, or is she attempting to extrapolate this and make a universal claim about humanity from what she is looking at? Personally, when I look at how Funder expresses her connection with German culture and weird admiration for it, I believe in the former. Do what you want but make sure you support it.