Sitzbook Review: “Stasiland” by Anna Funder


Hi again! Like I mentioned yesterday, I’ve got a few really short book review posts lined up. This one just has two quotes I really liked from a book called Stasiland, by Anna Funder.

If you’re not familiar with the Stasi, then you’re probably better off. They were the secret police in East Germany, and this book details interviews and experiences from people who worked for, fought against, and lived among the Stasi. It was a really interesting book, but it’s also not terribly lighthearted.

Anyhow, here are two quotes I liked. From p. 123:

“I remember what the German absurdist poet Kurt Tucholsky said about his countrymen and counters: they all grovel in front of them, and aspire to sit behind them. I am tossing up whether to grovel like a native or to make a scene, foreign-style…”

And this one from p. 156, when Funder is interviewing Hagen Koch:

“Just a moment,” he says. “It is hard for you to understand. Without understanding my childhood, you can’t see why anyone would want to join the Stasi.”
This isn’t quite true. I have given a lot of thought to why people would want to join. In a society riven into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ an ambitious young person might well want to be one of the group in the know, one of the unmolested. If there was never going to be an end to your country, and you could never leave, why wouldn’t you opt for a peaceful life and a satisfying career? What interested me is the process of dealing with that decision now that it is all over. Can you rework your past, the grit that rubs in you, until it is shiny an smooth as a pearl?”

I thought the first one was just a bit funny, but I really like the second one. When we read about regimes or systems that seem evil, it’s easy to ask ourselves “How in the world could anyone ever support that system?” That quote shows that the slope of righteousness is often more slippery than we imagine, and it’s nearly impossible to predict what we’d do in a given situation if we don’t ever actually find ourselves in that situation.

Anyhow, thanks again for reading, and check back in a day or two for more!

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