Posted by: Corri van de Stege | September 19, 2007

Books on the go – 2

I promised I’d reveal the titles of other books that I’m dipping in and out of at the moment.  Here they are, some non-fiction books for a change:

The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor is almost a resource book that helps me unravel background information to what was happening in the world, close by, when I grew up in the Netherlands.  Germany has always been just round the corner, a neighbour, that intrigued me as a child, especially because older people, parents, family, books, magazines, radio all still referred back to the second world war and the very threatening role Germany had played in their lives. 

Then when I grew up I had German friends and stayed in Germany, different parts, and also as part of my job later on.   I speak Germany quite fluently and always enjoyed my visits. 

When the wall came down that was a tremendous event, but what we tend to forget now is how that wall came about in the first place and how frightening the world then was for a lot of Europeans.  The cold war now seems a blib on the horizon but formed the very real childhood environment for a large number of people.  So this book by Taylor is a fascinating documentary, and it is extremely well written, snappy and at the same time thorough.  I enjoy filling in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding.

I have now also bought Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine, which is quite a tomb.  So far I have only read the flap I must admit, as well as the various reviews in the Sunday Papers. 

I continue to enjoy the odd chapters in David Lodge The Art of Fiction and I highly recommend this book to anyone that is the remotest bit interested in writing as a creative process.  It is so insightful about books, authors and styles.

Finally, but definitely not least I am  dipping into some Dutch books, recommended by a friend who knows my interests, on, hold tight, the Reformed Church in The Netherlands – research for my own writing.   I’ve also ordered a couple of novels that describe the particular post war period I am interested in, and how it was to grow up in that tightly ordered and suppressing atmosphere, dominated by religion and church battles.   It helps being bi-lingual or even tri-lingua.  Treasures.

Mmmm quite a list I think – I’d better continue reading, otherwise I won’t have anything to talk about in a short time, although Jose tells me that we can start comparing translations of books.  Not a bad idea!  Meanwhile I’m working on Haiku’s (part of the course assignments).    How’s this for a very late night last night arriving in my hotelroom somewhere in the north of England after a three hour drive:
 Evening drawing
 A chill in early morning –
 autumn has come

Well, you have to start somewhere!



  1. About the Berlin Wall, I have always wondered why it was erected really for: keeping Germans in or keeping strangers off.

    It does not seem really wise to keep those who do not want to live under a particular ideology behind that wall because what that attitude provokes is hatred towards the state, and I don’t think the Communists were so primitive in this connection.

  2. Jose: I think it was both: unfortunately lots of people in East Germany ended up conforming, as people do in those circumstances, it’s about survival isn’t it?

  3. José, I hope you permit my candour, but the answer to your question is just too obvious: the Berlin Wall was erected by the SED leadership to keep the citizens of the GDR locked inside. Prior to its construction the GDR was suffering from a massive drain of its people. West Germany was making huge strides economically and was a free country, whereas the GDR remained poor and became increasingly repressive with all freedom of expression stifled and dissenters being locked away and/or threatened and put under surveillance.
    Communism – as evidenced by the former dictatorships of Eastern Europe – is inherently authoritarian and repressive both philosophically and practically. Your last statement strikes me as somewhat naive.
    Seachanges, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a most people in the GDR ended up conforming. They did, however, retreat into their own families and communities – or their own “niches” as some historians have argued. Considering the potential for repression from the state it may indeed not come as a surprise that a majority of GDR citizens chose to make do rather than imperil their fragile existences.

  4. Ario F: fair point, what I meant with my somewhat flippant comment was indeed that most people wanted to get on with their lives, hence did not take their lives in their hands by protesting or marching against what was a very suppressive regime. I did not mean to say that most people in fact collaborated, far from it! And their wish to survival is one we can all understand and feel sympathetic with. I certainly did not mean to imply something sinister – however, there are very many well documented books and films that indicate that a large number of people under pressure did inform on their neighbours and family. Read the book, it is excellent.

  5. Being naive at 74 would be grand, Ario, don’t you think?

    Why must we think that the wall was erected to block East Germans inside?. I think the idea of the wall was subtler than that. Havig lived for most of my life under a dictatorship I have reasons to believe that dictatorships of any kind NEED the support of people to exist. The Cuban dictatorship, Communist itself, permits – or rather shuts its eyes, whenever Cubans want to exile themselves to the US, or anywhere else for that matter, because the Cuban authorities know that they cannot permit themselves the “luxury” to have too many dissidents inside their frontiers.

    I am of the opinion that the meaning of the Iron Curtain was merely a way to say to the West that there were limits to the latter’s territorial ambitions and that there was a division in Germany to be taken account of. Stalin was shrewd and satanic.

    We must not forget in our considerations that many inhabitants of East Germany supported the Communist regime. So seachanges is not wrong by saying what she said. People eventually resign themselves to their predicaments. We have the living example with Iraq these days.

    By the way, seachanges, I’ll be off-line for a short while, say 2/3 days, as my PC needs an overhaul. Nothing serious, I presume, perhaps some “weeding” I am ashamed to say. LOL.

  6. Will miss you Jose! Hope the computer ailment gets fixed rapidly!
    Meanwhile I’ll try and read some more on the Berlin Wall. I think you’re right about the insiduousness of regimes that try and keep people locked in. Let’s be honest, even ‘western’ politics do the same – I must find time to read Naomi Klein,however much critics say that she is naive. Am reseaching not only the Berlin Wall but also the brainwashing that went on in religious upbringing, particularly in the Netherlands – I have an interest. Quite fascinating.

  7. Thanks for clarifying that, Jose. I’m still not sure, though, you can say that many East Germans ‘supported’ the regime. I think they were apathetic towards it as long as there was a modicum of economic wellbeing. Things started unravelling in the 80s because living standards weren’t improving, political disingeniousness cq repression went too far, religious institutions were further circumscribed and environmental pollution was becoming a real problem. Non-governmental organisations sprang up to protest against these matters *within* the system. When that didn’t effect change, tentatively ways of protest outside the system were tried. But this could only be as successful as it was because the communist leaders didn’t dare to enact “the Chinese solution” and proved itself too crusty and rotten to react to the protests otherwise.

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