Blog Tour: David Young- Stasi Child/ Guest Post: Top 5 East Berlin Sites + Review

Stasi Blog Tourdavid

Well, today it’s the final stop on the Stasi Child Blog Tour, and author David Young has dropped by Raven Crime Reads to share some info and photos of some must- visit sites in East Berlin, so integral to his debut crime thriller. Then with your interest piqued, read on for Raven’s review of Stasi Child- think you’re going to like this one…

Top Five: East German sights in Berlin

Twenty five years ago this month, the two Germanies – East and West – became one. It seems hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed. Some fifteen years before that, in 1975, my novel Stasi Child begins – a time when few believed Germany would be reunited in their lifetime. A time defined by the Berlin Wall – known in the east as the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier or Rampart. It’s already a lost world, yet the ghost of the ironically titled German Democratic Republic (GDR) can still be seen in the eastern part of Germany, and in particular its captivating capital, which – especially in the last century – has been such a crucible of history. These are my top five tips for reliving the GDR on a visit to Berlin …

1. The Berlin Wall Memorial

Reconstructed watchtower at the Berlin Wall MemorialThe Wall is the symbol of all that was bad about East Germany – even though its construction in 1961 had a horrible logic: the GDR’s leaders needed somehow to stem the brain drain from their tiny eastern bloc country into the west. This memorial is sited in Bernauer Strasse – split between east and west in August 1961 – where people jumped out of apartment block windows to try to escape. You can read the harrowing stories of those shot dead in their attempts to flee in a portion of no man’s land that’s been retained, along with an original section of wall and reconstructed watchtower. The opening scene of Stasi Child takes place in St Elisabeth’s Cemetery, adjacent to the memorial.

2. Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Internal security in the GDR was the preserve of the Ministry for State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi, and this memorial is site of the main Stasi prison. It’s largely unchanged, surrounded by a barbed wire-topped wall and watchtowers. A visit here is an incredibly moving experience: the guides are usually either former inmates, or relatives of former inmates, with their own personal horror stories of what falling foul of the GDR regime meant. The prison features in the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others (and also in Stasi Child). If you’re short on time in Berlin, then Hohenschönhausen is a better bet than the former Stasi HQ at Normannenstrasse, though the latter has its highlights (such as a chance to spy on Stasi head Erich Mielke’s private bathroom).

3. ‘Alltag in der DDR’, Kulturbrauerei Museum

Trabi tent at Kulturbrauerei museumThis  is a relatively new museum housed in a former brewery off Schönhauser Allee in the Prenzlauer Berg district – is for me the pick of several in eastern Berlin that seek to depict everyday life in the former GDR (although those in the Palace of Tears – the former border crossing at Friedrichstrasse station – and the privately-run DDR Museum, where you can take a virtual drive in a Trabi, are also well worth visiting). You get a real flavour of day-to-day existence, and it wasn’t all bad. In fact, those who didn’t fall foul of the Stasi had one of the highest standards of living in the eastern bloc. Childcare facilities, welfare, job security, food prices – all put the west to shame, especially in the 1970s when Stasi Child is set, when Britain was riddled with three-day weeks, strikes and an oil crisis. Don’t miss the wonderful letters from schoolchildren imagining what a future GDR might be like.

 4. Museumswohnung, Berlin-Hellersdorf

Kitchen cupboard in the MuseumswohnungSome who brave the seventeen-kilometre drive or U-bahn ride out to this Berlin suburb might be disappointed by the Museumswohnung, but for me it was an unforgettable experience. Only open on Sundays, or by appointment, it’s a former East Berlin flat preserved as a time capsule: nothing more, nothing less. You’ve got all the original furniture, kitchen equipment, books and electrical gadgets. There are smaller displays in the DDR museum or Kulturbrauerei – but this is the real thing, housed in a typical – albeit modernised – GDR concrete slab apartment estate.

5. Waldsiedlung, near Wandlitz

Honecker's HouseNot strictly speaking Berlin, but some thirty kilometres to the north, this ‘forest settlement’ is well worth a trip in a hire car. This was where East Germany’s leaders lived, in comparative – but not ostentatious – luxury. In Stasi Child, it’s the setting where my People’s Police detective, Karin Müller, finally learns from her Stasi ‘handler’ what her case has all been about. It’s now a sanatorium, but in GDR-times was a well-guarded, gated estate. You can either take a guided tour on a road train, or wander round yourself, discovering the former houses of the two Erichs – Honecker and Mielke. Ironically, Mielke’s former home is considerably bigger – but both would be considered fairly modest by western standards.

RAVEN’S REVIEW:

StasiChild_firstlook_540If you still need an incentive to read this book after some brilliant guest posts, reviews and Q&As, I will do my best to further convince you! I’m more than happy to report that the Raven was rather taken with this one…

Constructed around three contrasting narrative viewpoints, the book takes place in 1970’s East Berlin, with the famed wall firmly in place, and the contrast between life either side of it strongly in evidence throughout. A young girl’s body is discovered close to the wall, with the general consensus being that she has taken the unusual step of fleeing from the West to the East, unlike most of her contemporaries. However, as Oberleutnant Karin Müller ( the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic) and her infuriatingly charming sidekick, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner investigate further, they come to realise that much darker dealings are afoot. With their every move being monitored by a representative of the Stasi, fundamentally manipulating their remit in the investigation, and Müller’s husband Gottfried also attracting the unwanted attention of the secret police, there is much subterfuge to be undertaken, and angst to be had, by Müller along the way. Additionally, Young incorporates a seemingly unrelated plot involving the restrictive and harsh conditions experienced by a group of youngsters in a notorious ‘Jugendwerkhof‘, ostensibly a home for less well disciplined, or rootless, youngsters to be indoctrinated in the ways of the State. As all three narratives wend their way towards each other, the depth of corruption, control, and conspiracy within this closed society become all too clear.

If, like me, you have enjoyed the Soviet-based crime fiction of authors such as Martin Cruz Smith, William Ryan, Tom Rob Smith or Sam Eastland, this will prove itself an absolute must read. Like the aforementioned authors, Young perfectly captures the socio-political atmosphere of a society in the grasp of a suffocating control of the state apparatus. The fear, suspicion and deprivation encountered by not only Müller and her team and the youngsters at the Jugendwerkhof, but also that of ordinary citizens, is incredibly well depicted, and Young provides an unflinching gaze on the workings of this closed society. He carefully balances the seeming utopia of life beyond the wall in the West, with the harsh and stringent regime of the East, which makes the plight of these citizens all the more affecting as the story progresses. Having only accrued knowledge of this location and period in German history from non-fiction and celluloid representations, it was entirely satisfying to see how well Young crafted the pertinent details into his fictional representation. Ably supported by an engrossing plot, with its varying strands and well-structured premise, this wasn’t just a linear crime thriller, which again added to the satisfaction of this reader.

Likewise, Young’s grasp of effective characterisation was a real bonus. Müller herself was an entirely empathetic and believable protagonist, balancing the problems of her gender, with the importance of her position in the police, and the nefarious individuals seeking to derail and influence her investigation. The interplay between her and Tilsner, both on a personal and professional level, always overshadowed by the demands of her loyalty to her husband, was a real hook throughout, and added a nice frisson to the general gloom and sadness that infuses the story. The character of Oberstleutnant Karl Jager, as a representative of the Stasi was also nicely weighted within the plot, with his shadowy influence and mercurial nature, providing an intriguing and slightly sinister air to the whole affair, in his dealings with Müller and Tilsner.

Similarly to Tom Callaghan’s debut earlier this year, The Killing Winter, set in Kyrgyzstan, it was extremely satisfying to read a book located in a largely unexplored society, within the crime fiction genre. Young has more than proved that his name will be one to watch in the future with this powerful, well-researched and intriguing thriller. A highly recommended debut.

Stasi Child by David Young is out now in ebook. The Paperback will follow in February 2016.

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)

 

Tom Rob Smith- The Farm

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes. Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital. Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow. Daniel is immediately caught between his parents – whom to believe, whom to trust? He becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury. Presented with a horrific crime, a conspiracy that implicates his own father, Daniel must examine the evidence and decide for himself: who is telling the truth? And he has secrets of his own that for too long he has kept hidden…

Inspired by the real life psychotic episode experienced by his own mother, Tom Rob Smith has crafted a powerful and affecting study in the disguise of a crime novel, as to the effect of a similar incident  on the very fabric of a family. Daniel resides happily in London with his partner Mark, and with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and the less frequent communication with family, believes his mother and father to be happy and secure in their retirement to Sweden from the UK. However, following a frantic phone call from his father Chris, and the appearance of his mother, Tilde, in London having seemingly escaped from a secure hospital in Sweden, Daniel’s life is turned upside down by the strange tale of abduction, conspiracy and murder his mother begins to recount…

Aside from the fact that every nuance, character and indeed word of this book is practically perfect, I will divulge nothing more of the plot at this juncture. Suffice to say as Daniel’s mother begins to present evidence in the form of journals and objects of the strange goings-on in her sleepy Swedish rural community, the reader experiences the same level of confusion as to the veracity of her claims. Through these journals and the use of dual narrative, Smith perfectly evokes the atmosphere and setting of rural Sweden so familiar to regular readers of Scandinavian crime fiction. The suffocating atmosphere of this locale that so affects the mind and actions of Daniel’s mother is beautifully wrought, and those who dwell within it are amplified and layered with sinister attributes as Tilde constructs her version of events, that have supposedly led to the disappearance of a local teenage girl. Sensing the threatening behaviour of her former friends and neighbours, and her husband Chris, Tilde sets out to accrue as much physical evidence as possible to prove her claims, and to avoid her incarceration in a hospital as others make claims as to the state of her mental health.

What is most intriguing about the book, and accomplished by the exquisite pace of the narrative, is how a family structure can be so quickly thrown into turmoil. Daniel has withheld his homosexuality from his parents,  his parents have not been entirely truthful about the happiness of their retirement, and Daniel is cast into the unenviable position of questioning which parent to believe in the light of Tilde’s claims. Cleverly, we as readers are able to participate in Daniel’s confusion, bearing witness to the unfolding of Tilde’s claims, as we are hearing the story along with Daniel at the same pace, and constructing our own theories and conclusions on Tilde’s story as the contents and evidence of her journals is divulged. The use of the journal form works extremely effectively for this very reason. Daniel is also guilty, as many are, of having taken the stability of his family relationship some what for granted, so this in turn makes the confusion and divided loyalty he experiences all the more palpable within the novel.

Having read this book some time ago, I believe it to be a testament to the strength of Smith’s writing that I am so easily transported back to the events and characters of the novel, This is a book that has stayed so vividly in my mind, that I can instantly recall the characters and their traits, and have not just pressed the mental delete button that follows the ending of a book- it has stayed with me. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book highly enough as an incredibly rewarding and thought-provoking read, and a book that I will certainly revisit in years to come.

Born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father, Tom Rob Smith’s
bestselling novels in the Child 44 trilogy were international publishing sensations. Among its many honours, Child 44 won the International Thriller Writer Award for Best First Novel, the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the inaugural Desmond Elliot Prize. Child 44 is now a major motion picture starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman. http://tomrobsmith.com/website/ Follow on Twitter @tomrobsmith

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)