The best books about life under the Stasi

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Scottish journalist. In the 1980s, I studied German at Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany. It was a fascinating experience that changed my perceptions of the world. I didn’t become a communist, but I did begin to see that where you stand depends on where you sit and that principles are easy to maintain when it costs you nothing to do so. There was a bleak glamour to East Germany that I loved, and so I decided to set my first novel in the shadowy world of intense personal connections, underground artists, and unofficial informers that I’d found in Leipzig. 


I wrote...

The Leipzig Affair

By Fiona Rintoul,

Book cover of The Leipzig Affair

What is my book about?

The Leipzig Affair is a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption set in East Germany in the dying days of the Cold War. Magda, a brilliant but disillusioned young linguist, is desperate to flee to the West. When a black-market deal brings her into contact with Robert, a young Scot studying at Leipzig University, she sees a way to realize her escape plans. As Robert falls in love with her, he stumbles into a complex world of shifting half-truths that will undo them both. Many years later, long after the Berlin Wall has been torn down, Robert returns to Leipzig in search of answers. Can he track down the elusive Magda? And will the past give up its secrets?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of In Times of Fading Light

Fiona Rintoul Why did I love this book?

In Times of Fading Light is a masterful five-decade family saga that melds the personal and the political to create a fascinating portrait of East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Intelligent, fearless, and full of dark humor, it is both an ingeniously structured page-turner, moving back and forward in time, and a literary tour de force. Eugen Ruge was a 35-year-old playwright when the Wall fell, and In Times of Fading Light, published in 2011, was his first novel. It provides a rich understanding of how people lived and loved in East Germany that scotches both nostalgia for the old East and Western clichés. Shining a bright light into the darker corners of family dynamics, it is also a tale with universal resonance. 

By Eugen Ruge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Times of Fading Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Already hailed as a Cold War classic.' Boyd Tonkin, Independent Books of the Year

'Utterly absorbing, funny and humane. A romp through a twisted century in the heart of Europe.' Anna Funder, author of Stasiland

International bestseller and Winner of the German Book Prize

A sweeping story of one family over four generations in East Germany: the intertwining of love, life and politics under the GDR regime.


Book cover of They Divided the Sky

Fiona Rintoul Why did I love this book?

They Divided the Sky, which is set in 1960-61 and was published in 1963, offers a rare first-hand insight into the period leading up to the construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961. As one of East Germany’s leading writers, Christa Wolf enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom of expression, and this novel wrestles openly with the central question that afflicted many East Germans of whether to stay in the East or defect to the “decadent” West. Written in flashbacks, They Divided the Sky transports us to that highly charged time, offering an evocative portrait of the socialist project in East Germany when it was still fresh and meaningful for many East Germans, including Wolf. 

By Christa Wolf, Luise Von Flotow (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked They Divided the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1963, in East Germany, They Divided the Sky tells the story of a young couple, living in the new, socialist, East Germany, whose relationship is tested to the extreme not only because of the political positions they gradually develop but, very concretely, by the Berlin Wall, which went up on August 13, 1961. The story is set in 1960 and 1961, a moment of high political cold war tension between the East Bloc and the West, a time when many thousands of people were leaving the young German Democratic Republic (the GDR) every day in order to…


Book cover of Kairos: Roman

Fiona Rintoul Why did I love this book?

Kairos is the story of an affair between a late-middle-aged man and a young woman set in the dying days of the German Democratic Republic. The disappearing nation is almost incidental to the main plot, which charts the peaks and troughs of an unequal and sometimes abusive relationship. For me, this light touch says everything about what it was like to live in East Germany. People were mainly just getting on with their lives, as they do everywhere. The book’s closing chapters explore emotions that were too often overlooked in the rush towards reunification: the dismay and disorientation that afflicted many East Germans, especially older ones, as their institutions were dismantled and they became foreigners in their own land. 

By Jenny Erpenbeck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kairos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eine ganz und gar epische Erzhlerin eine der kraftvollsten Stimmen der deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur. NZZ am Sonntag ber Jenny ErpenbeckDie neunzehnjhrige Katharina und Hans, ein verheirateter Mann Mitte fnfzig, begegnen sich Ende der achtziger Jahre in Ostberlin, zufllig, und kommen fr die nchsten Jahre nicht voneinander los. Vor dem Hintergrund der untergehenden DDR und des Umbruchs nach 1989 erzhlt Jenny Erpenbeck in ihrer unverwechselbaren Sprache von den Abgrnden des Glcks vom Weg zweier Liebender im Grenzgebiet zwischen Wahrheit und Lge, von Obsession und Gewalt, Hass und Hoffnung. Alles in ihrem Leben verwandelt sich noch in derselben Sekunde, in der es geschieht,…


Book cover of The Architects

Fiona Rintoul Why did I love this book?

Set in 1955-56, The Architects by German-Jewish author Stefan Heym is a rare find. It delivers a stark portrait of East Germany in the period around Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing Stalin, which Heym lived through. The author uses the politics of architecture to expose hypocrisy and personal jealousy in the new “anti-Fascist” German state. At the heart of the book is a devastating personal betrayal that gives the lie to communist claims of moral superiority. Written in the 1960s’, The Architects is a searing critique of the New Germany by a convinced socialist. This helps explain why Heym wrote it in English and did not publish it until 2000, a year before his death, in his own German translation.

By Stefan Heym,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Architects as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written between 1963 and 1966, when its publication would have proved to be political dynamite - and its author's undoing - this novel of political intrigue and personal betrayal takes readers into the German Democratic Republic in the late 1950s, shortly after Khruschev's ""secret speech"" denouncing Stalin and his methods brought about a ""thaw"" in the Soviet bloc and, with it, the release of many victims of Stalinist brutality. Among these is Daniel, a Communist exile from Hitler who has been accused of treachery while in Moscow and who now returns to Germany after years of imprisonment. A brilliant architect,…


Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Fiona Rintoul Why did I love this book?

Stasiland is a gripping non-fiction account of personal histories from the former East Germany told retrospectively. We live alongside Australian writer Anna Funder amidst fast-changing 1990s Berlin as she meets Stasi men and those who resisted them. We learn of their struggles in East German times and beyond through her outsider’s eye. Some may balk at the book’s personal tone, but for me, Funder pulls it off. I found this first-person blend of memoir and journalistic investigation to be utterly irresistible. 

By Anna Funder,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stasiland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Stasiland demonstrates that great, original reporting is still possible. . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully written book. A classic.” — Claire Tomalin, Guardian “Books of the Year”

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction: a powerfully moving account of people who heroically resisted the communist dictatorship of East Germany, and of people who worked for its secret police, the Stasi.

Anna Funder delivers a prize-winning and powerfully rendered account of the resistance against East Germany’s communist dictatorship in these harrowing, personal tales of life behind the Iron Curtain—and, especially, of life under the iron fist of the Stasi, East…


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The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Professor of Humanities Borders Radicalist

Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


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