The best books that show living in East Germany really was like a spy movie

Michelle Barker Author Of The House of One Thousand Eyes
By Michelle Barker

Who am I?

My mother grew up in Germany during World War Two and her family (or what was left of it) settled in the Soviet Zone that eventually became East Germany. She managed to get out in 1953 by sneaking across the border with a weekend pass, but other members of the family remained. This history has been close to my heart as a result and is what inspired me to write my novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes. I had to do a lot of research to evoke an authentic setting for my novel. This reading list comes from my research of, and fascination with, that time in history.

I wrote...

The House of One Thousand Eyes

By Michelle Barker,

Book cover of The House of One Thousand Eyes

What is my book about?

For Lena, life in East Germany in the early 1980s is particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite.  

But one night, her uncle disappears. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. She cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences.  

The books I picked & why

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Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

By Anna Funder,

Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Why this book?

I first encountered this non-fiction book on East Germany while doing research for my novel. It is a riveting account of the author’s journey to Germany after the Wall came down to interview both people who resisted the authorities and people who worked for them. It provides incredible insight into the life and mindset of East Germans under the totalitarian regime. Many of the stories will leave you with your mouth hanging open in shock. I took it out of the library and then realized it was a book I needed to own, so I bought it and have read it several times. 

The Innocent

By Ian McEwan,

Book cover of The Innocent

Why this book?

This novel is set in Germany during the Cold War and is based partly on an actual event: a tunnel that was built by the British and Americans to gain access to the Soviets’ communications system. However, it focuses on a fictional character who is an innocent in several senses. I loved the setting, but I also loved the turn in the book where innocence becomes experience in a shocking way. This was a book I couldn’t put down.

The Iron Curtain Kid

By Oliver Fritz,

Book cover of The Iron Curtain Kid

Why this book?

This is a memoir written by a young man who grew up in East Germany. I picked this one up for research but found myself completely enthralled by the story. His attention to detail is excellent. If you ever want to know what it was like to grow up in East Germany on a day-to-day basis, this is a great source of information. When the author finally goes to West Berlin for the first time in his life, it made me cry. 

Stasi Child: A Karin Müller Thriller

By David Young,

Book cover of Stasi Child: A Karin Müller Thriller

Why this book?

This is a police procedural set in the 1970s in East Berlin. The author successfully evokes an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, as the main character, a female detective, must try to solve the murder of a young girl who seems to have been killed fleeing from West to East Germany (not the usual direction). The feeling that everyone is watching, everyone is a potential informer, everything is potentially corrupt, corresponds to all the research I did on East Germany. Plus, it’s a great story that’s hard to put down.

Born in the GDR: Life in the Shadow of the Wall

By Hester Vaizey,

Book cover of Born in the GDR: Life in the Shadow of the Wall

Why this book?

The author of this non-fiction book interviews eight people who were born and raised in East Germany’s totalitarian regime and have had to adjust to a new life after the Wall comes down. I liked this book because it gave me a different perspective on East Germany and how people felt about the regime. Turns out it was a little more complicated than simply thinking everything was bad. And once the Wall came down, many things became difficult for easterners, particularly the higher cost of living and the scorn they experienced from westerners. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in East Germany, Germany, and romantic love?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about East Germany, Germany, and romantic love.

East Germany Explore 21 books about East Germany
Germany Explore 297 books about Germany
Romantic Love Explore 417 books about romantic love

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Alone in Berlin, and Night Soldiers if you like this list.