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Monday, 4 January 2016

‘Stasi Child’ by David Young

Published by Twenty7,
1October 2015.
ISBN: 978 1 78577 006 7 (PB)

This novel is set in East Germany (the DDR) in 1974 at a time when that country and the whole of Eastern Europe was controlled by the Communist Party (in effect, by the then USSR). Every aspect of life was dominated by the Party and dissent was forcefully repressed. Life in the DDR was presented as being immeasurably superior to life in Western Europe, particularly West Berlin. Amazingly, most East Germans were apparently prepared to accept this whatever the evidence to the contrary. So when the body of a young girl with a mutilated face is found in a snowy cemetery bordering on the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier’ (the Berlin Wall) it is essential that the authorities identify it as being a West German escaping from the evil and corrupt influences of the West. But Oberleutnant Karin Muller of the People’s  Police (the Vopo) is not happy about this; although the girl’s shoes are on the right feet the footprints tell a different story. And, more ominously, tyre tracks appear to be from a Volvo limousine, the chosen vehicle of the higher echelons of the East German political establishment. So it is not surprising that in addition to the investigation of the murder by the CID Division of the People’s Police, Klaus Jager, an officer from the Ministry of State Security (the Stasi), is taking an interest in the murder; what is surprising that he does not take full control of the case to ensure that no evidence awkward for the authorities comes to light. Is he planning that Muller and her colleagues take the blame for finding evidence that could cause trouble for him? Or has he some deeper, more widely political motive? At the same time, Muller’s personal life is causing her problems; her partner Gottfried suspects her of a sexual relationship with her married colleague Werner Tilsner; in fact, the sexual relationship consists of a drunken one-night stand but it is enough to threaten the relationship with Gottfried. The investigative trail as to the young girl’s identity and the cause of her death leads to a Jugendwerkhof where there are a number of young girls who have been sent there for ‘re-education’. The depiction of life in the Jugendwerkhof is particularly powerful; those places were in fact scenes of great brutality which used the unfortunate children confined in them as slave labour.

This book is of especial interest for its depiction of life in East Germany, where paranoia and suspicion ruled, before the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and eventually in Russia itself and the detachment of those countries which had formed the USSR. It seems extraordinary that so many people were convinced, not only of the rightness of their cause, but that their living conditions were so superior.
Reviewer: Radmila May

David Young was born near Hull and - after dropping out of a Bristol University science degree - studied Humanities at Bristol Polytechnic. Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher's van were followed by a career in journalism with provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and international radio and TV newsrooms. He now writes in his garden shed and in his spare time supports Hull City AFC.

Radmila May was born in the US but has lived in the UK ever since apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and has been working for them off and on ever since. For the last few years she was one of three editors working on a new edition of a practitioners' text book on Criminal Evidence by her late husband; the book has now been published thus giving her time to concentrate on her own writing. She also has an interest in archaeology in which subject she has a Diploma.

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