Anna Funder delivered the Dymphna Clark Lecture at the University of Melbourne last week, and I wish I hadn’t heard about it after the fact! (For other poor souls who missed it, apparently she was an elegant speaker on the creative imagination and the role of reading. Dammit.)
It reminded me how much I’d admired both her novel All That I Am (2011) and her memoir/political history Stasiland (2003), both exploring events in German history. Funder has a gift for framing her extensive research in finely crafted language, with the beauty of her writing in some way diminishing the horror of the historical events she recounts.
In Stasiland, Funder reports the hold of the Stasi — the state security service — over citizens in the former East Germany. Her interviews with artists, activists and Stasi officers are punctuated by visits to official museums and clandestine prisons, and you can only be impressed by her sensitivity as she speaks with people still affected by surveillance and repression. I came away with a disturbingly realistic sense of how it felt to have the secret service in your friendships, your home and your head.
All That I Am deals with an earlier period in German history, Hitler’s rise to power through the second world war, and it follows the lives, loves and bravery of a group of German anti-war activists who were eventually forced into exile in London. It is a fictional rendering of true stories and historical figures (Ernst Toller, Dora Fabian, Hans Weserman, etc). The real-life inspiration for All That I Am came from Funder’s friendship with the elderly Ruth Blatt, formerly Ruth Becker, who was Dora’s cousin and companion during the period covered by the novel. It is a powerful and inspiring read, highlighting a story of resistance which has been lost in mainstream WWII narratives.
Stasiland — Text — PB — $24.95
All That I Am — Penguin — PB — $22.95