Colorful, intensely observed, well executed, with lots of black humor and disturbing undertones.

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STASILAND

STORIES FROM BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL

Sydney-based Funder’s impressive debut crisply renders her pursuit of East Berlin’s ghosts.

When she was writer-in-residence at the Australia Center in Potsdam, the author became fascinated by the uneasy truce former East Germans kept with their recent Communist past, which was literally all around. The German Democratic Republic’s surveillance apparatus, run by the Stasi (secret police), was more pervasive than elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc; many people became informers, while others had their lives ruined for minor infractions. Funder befriended several survivors, such as Miriam, who was arrested at 16 in 1968 for anti-authoritarian pranks; fearing prison, she attempted to cross the Berlin Wall, served time, and was persecuted for years. (Eventually her lover died, mysteriously, in custody.) A couple the author met had nearly lost their sick child, who was at a better hospital in West Berlin; her landlady was barely able to acknowledge what turned out to be a history of twisted treatment by the Stasi. Similar trials are recalled with cocky humor by survivors like Klaus Renft, once a naïve underground rock star whose band provided youthful GDR residents with “something authentic and unauthorised.” Funder also sought out ex-Stasi workers willing to tell their stories; she had a memorably bizarre encounter with Herr von Schnitzler, a despised pioneer of televised propaganda who defended the regime with undiminished vitriol. Funder shrewdly blends memoir elements with these personal histories and casts an attentive eye on the decrepit landscape with its haunting traces of the old regime, most dramatically expressed by the official effort to untangle the Stasi’s paper trail: an office of so-called “puzzle women” working to restore shredded documents in an effort projected to take 375 years. The former GDR may be out of the news these days, but Funder’s fully humanized portrait of the Stasi’s tentacles reads like a warning of totalitarian futures to come.

Colorful, intensely observed, well executed, with lots of black humor and disturbing undertones.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-86207-580-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Granta

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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