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The File: A Personal History Paperback – September 29, 1998
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From the Inside Flap
"Eloquent, aware and scrupulous . . . a rich and instructive examination of the Cold War past." --The New York Times
In 1978 a romantic young Englishman took up residence in Berlin to see what that divided city could teach him about tyranny and freedom. Fifteen years later Timothy Garton Ash--who was by then famous for his reportage of the downfall of communism in Central Europe--returned. This time he had come to look at a file that bore the code-name "Romeo." The file had been compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police, with the assistance of dozens of informers. And it contained a meticulous record of Garton Ash's earlier life in Berlin.
In this memoir, Garton Ash describes what it was like to rediscover his younger self through the eyes of the Stasi, and then to go on to confront those who actually informed against him to the secret police. Moving from document to remembrance, from the offices of British intelligence to the living rooms of retired Stasi officers, The File is a personal narrative as gripping, as disquieting, and as morally provocative as any fiction by George Orwell or Graham Greene. And it is all true.
"In this painstaking, powerful unmasking of evil, the wretched face of tyranny is revealed." --Philadelphia Inquirer
About the Author
Timothy Garton Ash is a Fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Celebrated for his essays in The New York Review of Books, he is the author of The Polish Revolution, which won the Somerset Maugham Award; The Uses of Adversity, which won the Prix Européen de l’Essai; In Europe's Name; and The Magic Lantern, his eyewitness account of the Central European revolutions of 1989, which has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Oxford with his wife and two sons.
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I started reading this book with no knowledge that Mr Ash (the author) was a journalist. Therefore, I was somewhat disappointed that the book read with the uncanny tenor of that profession versus a more common man's analysis of their file and those involved with it. Since Mr Ash was reporting on goings on within East Germany and Poland, hence the creation of his file, there were points throughout the book where it seemed less about his file and more about the work he'd done. Although they are inextricably linked, I at times felt that the balance between the two tilted too far towards a biography.
That being said, the opportunity to read about Mr Ash's experiences interviewing those intimate with his file was very enjoyable and provided insights into both Eastern Germany and human nature itself. This is made all the more interesting by his review of the Stasi files about the informers themselves as well as the history of the Stasi agents. These sections of the book were by far my favorite and made the entire experience worthwhile.
The only thing that within the book that I wish was done differently was the author's placing blame on people or to find them as either good or bad. The questioning of whether they felt blame or guilt was quite different then him asserting these characteristics on these individuals. Although it is unfair to fault him for this, his personal investment somewhat diminishes the historical, objective approach I desired from the book. I would have preferred him to allow the reader to decide for him/herself the guilty or not guilty verdict.
The File is a historical analysis of one file and one person's experience with the Stasi and East German Government. Because the author is analyzing his own life there is a deal of personal bias when it comes to how an particular informant/person should be viewed, however, this does not diminish from the book. Instead, it offers greater insight into how this individual felt about the GDR, the role of the Stasi in East German society, and the role of the East German citizens as informants. Furthermore, the personal approach The File offers allows the audience to experience for themselves the emotions and events of the author's life.
All in all The File is an excellent case study into East German Society, the East German Government, the Stasi and the experiences of a captalist foreigner residing temporarily within a communist government/society.
It is an excellent, accurate look at a country and a system that have passed into oblivion but left many scars on many people.
Most recent customer reviews
It is, first, well-written for a work of nonfiction, with a clear, functional narrative that doesn't get in the...Read more