Funder, Anna 1966-
FUNDER, Anna 1966-
Born 1966, in Melbourne, Australia. Education: Attended University of Melbourne and University of Berlin; earned a law degree.
Home—Sydney, Australia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Granta Books, 1755 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
Has worked as a documentary filmmaker for Australian Broadcasting Corp.; as a researcher and translator for Deutsche Welle Television, Berlin, Germany; as an attorney; and as a radio and television producer. Australia Center, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany, writer-in-residence, 1997.
DAAD scholarship, German government; Felix Meyer creative writing award; Australian German Association fellowship; Arts Victoria literature grant; Age Book-of-the-Year Award short-list in nonfiction, and Queensland Premier's Literary Award shortlist, both 2002, both for Stasiland: True Stories from behind the Berlin Wall.
Anna Funder had careers as an attorney, filmmaker, researcher, translator, and writer in Australia and Europe before publishing her first book, Stasiland: True Stories from behind the Berlin Wall. Fluent in French and German, Funder lived in Germany both before and after the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall in 1989. The wall, which was built in 1961 by the Communist government of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), was erected in order to keep its oppressed citizens from seeking refuge in that island of democracy, West Berlin. West Berlin, although surrounded on all sides by East Germany, was part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and until 1961 East Berlin citizens were allowed to travel freely to their next-door neighbor. When the wall was finally smashed to pieces after the East German government began to ease restrictions, Funder felt it was an opportunity to find out what the lives of East German citizens were like both before and after the German reunification that soon followed. As the author said in a Fifth Estate interview, "I was very interested in the stories of ordinary people, how it affected them to live in this society, which was riven so clearly into goodies and baddies—as a writer you can't find clearer goodies and baddies."
Of particular interest to Funder was the amazing paranoia exhibited by the East German government, which continuously spied on its citizens via its secret police force, the Stasi. The Stasi compiled enormous files on all forms of activities engaged in by its private citizens, and also enlisted the aid of ordinary people to spy on their coworkers, friends, and relatives. This constant surveillance and atmosphere of suspicion made life very difficult for East Germans, and Funder, through a series of interviews, documents their opinions, feelings, and experiences in Stasiland.
In the book Funder speaks with those who suffered under the Stasi as well as with former members of the Stasi themselves. Offering few background details or explanations about how the East Germans found themselves in their bizarre, Orwellian predicament, "Funder does not delve deeply into the reasons why so many East Germans collaborated with the state to spy and inform on their neighbors and families and lovers and friends," remarked Charles Taylor in a Salon.com review. Taylor felt that this approach is to the book's benefit: "Funder's decision not to go too deeply into the reasons is not reluctance on her part or laziness. It's an acceptance of the worst aspects of human nature, and it shows a deep respect for the horror of the irrational by its refusal to indulge in the sort of psychologizing that only ends up trivializing it."
Some of the people whose tales are related in Stasiland include Miriam, a woman whose husband was jailed and later died in prison for reasons she has never been able to learn; Julia, whose relationship with a foreigner cost her an education and a career; and Frau Paul, who sent her seriously ill son to a West German hospital and then was forbidden to see him by the East German government unless she agreed to become an informer, a condition she refused. "These stories are essentially modern day David and Goliath stories, about ordinary people who were in a situation where there was no sense that that world they were in would ever cease to be. So if you obeyed your conscience, very bad things would happen to you, and you would essentially have no career or education and a very bad time having children, because of that regime," Funder is quoted as saying in a Bookseller review. In Stasiland, Funder also tells about the "puzzle women," a group of dedicated workers who are currently embarking on the huge task of reassembling all the documents the East German government shredded, a job that some predict will take 375 years to complete. On the other side of the story, Funder also speaks with former Stasi members such as Hagen Koch, a loyal spy for the government who found the tables turned on him when the Communists began to interfere with his marriage. "Funder shows that the Stasi-men like Koch were also victims in their way," commented Giles MacDonogh in the Guardian.
Many critics of Stasiland found Funder's intimate look at life in East Germany to be a rewarding read. "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," said one Kirkus Reviews contributor. And an Australian critic asserted that the author "brilliantly pits the lingering romance for 'a better world' against the horrors perpetrated by … the Stasi." Although Times Literary Supplement critic Anne McElvoy remarked that Funder acts as if no one before her had written about the horrors of the East German regime—"She writes as if no attention had been given to the relationship of Stasi perpetrators and victims since the day the Wall crumbled"—Taylor in Salon.com asserted that Funder "does full justice to these stories without milking them. She's a good listener and fine at channeling the voices of her interviewees."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Australian, January 31, 2004, review of Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, p. B12.
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Frank Caso, review of Stasiland, p. 1568.
Bookseller, March 21, 2003, "Courage and Capitulation: Anna Funder Went to the Former East Germany to Hear Stories of the Surveillance State," p. 28.
Guardian (Manchester, England), June 7, 2003, Giles MacDonogh, review of Stasiland, p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Stasiland, p. 583.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, Janet Ross, review of Stasiland, p. 145.
Times Literary Supplement, November 14, 2003, Anne McElvoy, "Stasi Heaven, Stasi Hell."
Fifth Estate Web site,http://fifth.estate.rmit.edu.au/ (June 30, 2002), "Exploring Stasiland."