Anna Funder’s 2002 work of literary journalism, _Stasiland_, relates her journey through a “land gone wrong”, the German Democratic Republic. Separated by the Berlin Wall and political ideology, East Germans lived under the ubiquitous and omniscient control of the Stasi, the secret police, whose “job it was to know everything about everyone”. Throughout her quest, Funder uncovers several stories of courage in the face of such oppression, both in acts of resistance and in sustained displays of resilience, however these acts are individual and ineffectual in toppling the regime. Despite these brave individuals’ fortitude, they were unable to weaken the Stasi’s power or to incite remorse from them. Regardless, Funder is successful in finding and then assembling an inspirational narrative from these admirable recounts of defiance and thus, she succeeds in her original goal.
In a society under constant surveillance, acts of defiance were possible but met with quick retribution by the Stasi. Vocalised by Funder’s archetypal dissident, Miriam; “[t]hey break you”. Miriam’s denunciation as an “enemy of the state” began at age sixteen with her publication and distribution of rebellious leaflets and continued for many years in her attempted escape at Bornholmer Bridge, her deception of Major Flesicher in interrogation and her relentless search for the truth about Charlie’s death. The repercussions were also unremitting: incarceration, torture, constant surveillance, restrictions on education and employment and a complete destruction of autonomy. Through Miriam’s plight, Funder reminds audiences of the “kind of mortgage [these] acts put on [their] future”, evoking compassion for the lasting and unjust suffering.
Funder’s admiration of Miriam’s “big voice” against the authorities is evident as her search for truth becomes intertwined with Funder’s own investigation, to the point that Miriam’s story frames the book itself. This admiration is paired with Funder’s dignified interview with Gunter Bohnsack, the only Stasi man Funder attributes a first name. Bohnsack’s rejection of the Stasi’s “omerta, a code of honour that rules them” when he outed himself to local media was retaliated with abusive phone calls and social isolation. Through the discovery of such subversive acts, Funder appears empowered to continue with her own task in documenting this “lost world”.
Not only does Funder celebrate moments of personal resistance, she also acknowledges the power of resilience in surviving the effects of an oppressive regime, a capacity even the most damaged victims have. Frau Paul arguably personifies the human impact of the Wall. Separated from her sick son in the Westend hospital with limited visitation, the GDR’s callousness sent Frau Paul to Berlin Ostbahnhof in an attempted escape. Subjected to persistent observation, this culminated in being “kidnapped right off the street”, the connotation reminding readers of the Stasi’s forced estrangement of Torsten from his mother. Withstanding a torturous ordeal in prison, Frau Paul’s decision to deny the Stasi’s offer to flee to the West in return for Michael Hinze is revered by Funder. Her recount of Frau Paul’s story is steeped in the miserable imagery of her “weeping and weeping “, enhancing the sombre mood for the reader.
Similarly, Funder’s conversations with Julia Behrend illuminate another story of resolve. When narrating Julia’s harrowing story, Funder acts merely as an observer in order to pay respect to an individual whose voice had been silenced by the Firm. Julia experienced continual victimization from the Stasi stemming from her relationship with an Italian boyfriend. Despite the Stasi’s denial of her education and employment opportunities, Julia fought against anyone controlling her life. It was only after a brutal rape and a humiliating police interview that Julia felt she was at “the end of what [she] could manage”. Funder’s deliberate inclusion of Julia’s email in the closing chapters is a testament to Julia’s ability to endure the suffering and emerge as a survivor, now reestablishing herself in San Francisco. This reaffirms Funder’s purpose of discovering East Germans who demonstrated the capacity to withstand the damages inflicted by the Stasi. _Stasiland_ celebrates survivors and avows their ability to move forward.
Conversely, Funder is appalled by her encounters with those who appear to preserve and proliferate the Stasi mentality. Their commitment to the Firm shows an inability to move forward and a lack of resistance that Anna finds contemptible. Labelling them “very nasty scouts”, Funder demeans the Stasi as cruel boys playing an extreme game of spies. In her meeting with Herr Winz, who offers the _Communist Manifesto_ and proclaims the “Second Coming of socialism”, Funder remarks on his “tale” and is “unconvinced” of his “spy play-acting”. Through her skeptical viewpoint, audiences are also drawn in to distrust Winz as he is presented as an insistent child telling a story and losing its temper. Moreover, Herr Bock has maintained the “covert location” where he used to meet informers in his home and has translated his skills of persuasion into a career of consultancy.
Anna is repulsed by Bock, and quick to leave his home. She belittles his new role as a new means of gaining the support of his people and then “selling them cheap”, reinforcing this suspicion in the reader. However, the epitome of subservience to the Firm is represented in Von Schnitzler. Karl-Eduard Von Schnitzler exhibits similar displays of obstinacy to Miriam in regards to their convictions and beliefs, yet in her interview with him, Funder constantly interrupts and argues against the logic of his claims. Titling the chapter “Von Schni-” Funder references an earlier comment of Julia’s about his irrelevancy and his audience’s extreme distaste for his rhetoric, emphasized by her observation that it is his wife’s maiden name on the door, “not his”. In her search to voice stories of perseverance, Funder also uncovers stories of men who are unrepentant in their collective actions to stifle these acts of individual bravery.
After the initial dismissal from Scheller and his articulation of the residual “embarrass[ment]” felt by the Germans in the wake of the GDR, Anna Funder’s pursuit to portray the lives of the ordinary citizens is rewarded with several “great stor[ies] of human courage”. Her tenacious investigative work delving into the isolated society praises characters who challenged and survived the regime whilst simultaneously ridiculing the perpetrators who refuse to acknowledge their wrongs. Through this poignant reminder, readers are encouraged to value acts of fortitude against injustice and adversity.
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