The best books about the Stasi

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the Stasi and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of In Times of Fading Light

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. 

In Times of Fading Light

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.

Who am I?

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?

Kairos

By Jenny Erpenbeck,

Book cover of Kairos: Roman

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. 

Kairos

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.


Who am I?

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?

They Divided the Sky

By Christa Wolf, Luise Von Flotow (translator),

Book cover of They Divided the Sky: A Novel

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. 

They Divided the Sky

By Christa Wolf, Luise Von Flotow (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…

Who am I?

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?

The Outsider

By Frederick Forsyth,

Book cover of The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

In 2015 Forsyth published his autobiography entitled The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue. This is another excellent book written in his usual style - full of intrigue and adventures, only this time the author himself is the main protagonist. Besides, all that Forsyth describes in this book is either true or at least very close to the truth including his admitting that for a certain period of time and in certain countries he had been acting as an agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Forsyth had ever been a spy, but he is certainly writing his spy novels as an insider.

All his books are extremely well written and must be studied by all intelligence professionals as textbooks. Usually, intelligence officers do not like reading because they think their life is so interesting and full of adventures that nothing can be more fascinating.…

The Outsider

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FREDERICK FORSYTH HAS SEEN IT ALL. AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE...
At eighteen, Forsyth was the youngest pilot to qualify with the RAF.
At twenty-five, he was stationed in East Berlin as a journalist during the Cold War.
Before he turned thirty, he was in Africa controversially covering the bloodiest civil war in living memory.
Three years later, broke and out of work, he wrote his game-changing first novel, The Day of the Jackal. He never looked back.
Forsyth has seen some of the most exhilarating moments of the last century from the inside, travelling the world, once or…


Who am I?

Boris B. Volodarsky is a former intelligence officer, captain of the GRU Spetsnaz, Russian special forces. With the first raising of the Iron Curtain, Boris legally left the Soviet Union with his family. After living in the West for over 30 years, he became a British academic writing books and other academic works on the subject he knew best of all – the history of intelligence. Dr. Volodarsky earned a history degree at the London School of Economics under Professor Sir Paul Preston defending his doctoral thesis there with flying colours. He is contributing articles to the leading newspapers and is often interviewed by television and radio channels in Britain and the USA.


I wrote...

Assassins: The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years on

By Boris Volodarsky,

Book cover of Assassins: The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years on

What is my book about?

This book is the second volume of my The KGB’s Poison Factory, first published in 2009 after the infamous poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London by radioactive Polonium-210. It had several reprints in both UK and the USA and was translated into other languages. I was one of the consultants to the British investigation carried out by SO-15 of the Metropolitan police. I also knew both Sasha Litvinenko and his patron, Boris Berezovsky, personally. In the new book I add ten new cases where it was proved without doubt that Russian agents poisoned Kremlin’s opponents in various parts of the world. It covers the time span of several decades.

Why this book is so special? First of all, it presents the Litvinenko case in an entirely new light showing many flaws of the investigation and the following inquest, which made wrong conclusions based on insufficient or manipulated evidence. Another chapter, ‘The Oligarch’, seeks to prove that Boris Berezovsky, a Russian business tycoon who had resided in London for 13 years, did not commit suicide, as the Thames Valley Police investigation wanted to demonstrate, but was murdered by Russian intelligence. My conclusion is supported by Professor Bern Brinkmann, an internationally renowned medico-legal expert and forensic scientist who was employed by members of Berezovsky’s family. Other cases include the murder of the Soviet defector Nikolai Artamonov in Vienna, the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, and so on, all presented differently from what one can read in popular media.

Stasiland

By Anna Funder,

Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

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. 

Stasiland

By Anna Funder,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

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?

The Architects

By Stefan Heym,

Book cover of The Architects

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.

The Architects

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,…

Who am I?

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?

Purity

By Jonathan Franzen,

Book cover of Purity

First of all: am I the only one who thinks Franzen looks a bit like Stephen King? This resemblance might very well be the only thing they have in common (aside from both making a living solely with their writing). English isn’t my native language, so it probably took me a bit longer than the average native speaker to read his (long!) book - which is a stark contrast to Follett’s, and not only in terms of prose style. I had no idea that Franzen studied in Germany and is fluent in my mother language. I only looked this up after his chapter aptly titled "The Republic of Bad Taste" — Franzen’s name for East Germany.

With the character of Andreas Wolf, we’re looking into the mind of a criminal, the offspring of a high-level informant — his father. Andreas Wolf murders the sexually abusive father of a girl he…

Purity

By Jonathan Franzen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestseller from the author of Freedom and The Corrections

Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother - her only family - is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads…


Who am I?

I grew up in Germany and have been living all over the globe since I was 18, including the US. I married a New Yorker 15 years ago. I am drawn to stories that combine both the German and American cultures — two worlds I feel at home in — and as reflected in my debut novel. The next one will take place between the US and East Germany - we had relatives on the other side of the Iron Curtain whom we visited frequently. I will never forget surprising my 17-year-old cousin sitting alone in the garden, crying… over a can of Coke that we had smuggled over the border to him.

I wrote...

Hotel on Shadow Lake: A Spellbinding Mystery Unravelling a Century of Family Secrets

By Daniela Tully,

Book cover of Hotel on Shadow Lake: A Spellbinding Mystery Unravelling a Century of Family Secrets

What is my book about?

When Maya was a girl, her grandmother was everything to her: teller of magical fairy tales, surrogate mother, best friend. Then her grandmother disappeared without a trace, leaving Maya with only questions to fill the void. Twenty-seven years later, her grandmother’s body is found in a place she had no connection to.

Desperate for answers, Maya begins to unravel secrets that go back decades, from 1910s New York to 1930s Germany and beyond. But when she begins to find herself spinning her own lies to uncover what happened, she must decide whether her life, and a chance at love, are worth risking for the truth. Tully beautifully sculpts a mystery that plays with past and present, traversing war in Nazi Germany, to 1910s New York, to the present day.

Wolves Eat Dogs

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Book cover of Wolves Eat Dogs

Martin Cruz Smith’s first book in his Arkady Renko series, Gorky Park, did very well and was made into a successful film. Later books are perhaps not so well known which I think is a great pity. Smith’s books ooze atmosphere, intrigue, and authenticity taking us into other worlds—in this case, that of Russian oligarchs and the deadly exclusion zone round Chernobyl. Arkady Renko is an incorruptible investigator in a society where everyone is on the makeanother parallel I’ve found very applicable to my own work. And, unlike many thriller authors, Smith is also a brilliant writer of scintillating, gripping narrative. I’d love David Hidalgo and Arkady Renko to meet and have a chat over a few glasses of red wine, vodka, or both!

Wolves Eat Dogs

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Don't miss the latest book in the Arkady Renko series, THE SIBERIAN DILEMMA by Martin Cruz Smith, 'the master of the international thriller' (New York Times) - available to order now!

AN ARKADY RENKO NOVEL: #5

'One of those writers that anyone who is serious about their craft views with respect bordering on awe' Val McDermid

'Makes tension rise through the page like a shark's fin' Independent

***
The iron curtain has fallen and a screen of nouveau capitalism stands in its place. Though the New Russia is foreign to Renko, the corruption and brutality that he encounters are all…

Who am I?

When I first thought about crime writing I was probably too lazy to do the research on police procedures so decided instead to feature an “ordinary” character with no official role but who still intervenes when evil seems to be triumphing and nobody is paying attention. Key elements of this are reflected in my list—the importance of stories and storytelling, some great thrillers, and thoughtful consideration of why someone would put themselves in jeopardy for others. Having worked with many criminals and victims I have seen that ordinary people can make a difference. In a way my books ask the question, “What would you do in David Hidalgo’s shoes?”


I wrote...

Benefit of the Doubt: He Fled, Danger Followed

By Les Cowan,

Book cover of Benefit of the Doubt: He Fled, Danger Followed

What is my book about?

Benefit of the Doubt is the first in the David Hidalgo series and begins with our hero newly returned to Edinburgh from Spain, a broken man, everything precious taken from him in a drug related killing. Given his fragile state of mind it is not surprising that, when the granddaughter of a church member disappears having become involved with drugs, he initially turns down the plea for help. Given his character and convictions however this is not sustainable for long. 

The quest results in ghosts from the past, an unexpected romance and ultimately the sense of purpose his life has been lacking. Benefit of the Doubt is a love story, a quest, a puzzle, a dilemma, and a journey of self discovery and restoration.

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