Review | Monday 29 August 2011
Anna Funder’s award-winning Stasiland remains one of the most profoundly moving books I have read. It revealed an intensely shocking, sinister episode in German history – but more importantly, it demonstrated the very real impact politics and corruption have on ordinary lives.
In her latest book, ‘a novel’, Funder’s majestic journalistic capabilities delve into an intoxicating period in Berlin, just before and immediately after Hitler’s election to power. She invokes that permissive, sophisticated era of Berlin between the wars with the same frenetic pace of Christopher Isherwood. This is where Ernst Toller, expressionist playwright, World War I veteran and political prisoner, meets two young women, Dora and Ruth, and their lives irrevocably intertwine. Young intellectuals and artists discuss politics and philosophy through a haze of smoke; they meet in clubs where they converse with one another between booths by telephone and finally they meet in exile, in bedsits, impoverished and powerless, to mobilise against the Nazi party. Dora is a powerful character, both on the page and in her impact on the lives of others. She wears her hair defiantly bobbed, is often in trousers and believes in giving love freely, but suffers greatly from her ideology – the world wasn’t ready for her, but she is the glue that binds this novel.
Many years later, Toller is completely paralysed by his realisation of the depth of his love for Dora. He is dictating his memoirs in a hotel room in New York to a kind young woman, Clara. Unwilling to leave his hotel room and unable to pay his hotel bill, he remembers his life to her in fragments before it becomes too painful to bear. Both his life and Dora’s are connected to Ruth and it is through her eyes, both as a young woman and as an elderly retired school teacher, that most of the novel is told. Funder writes beautifully, with a telling sensitivity towards her characters that makes her novel an exceptional meditation on politics, loss and memory.
Justine Douglas is from Readings Port Melbourne