mendation -- The ...

Book Recommendation -- The File: I just finished The File, by Timothy Garton Ash, and I heartily recommend it to all of you. Garton Ash, the Oxford historian-journalist who has witnessed and written books about the Solidarity movement, the Central European revolutions of 1989, and West Germany's Ostpolitik policy (while compiling two books of Mitteleuropa-related essays, one pre-revolution, one post-revolution), wrote this modest little 1997 volume about researching his own Stasi file, then confronting the people (including friends) who spied on him.

Perhaps because he doesn't feel compelled to reiterate every last detail about East German history, and instead focuses intensely on his own personal experience, this is a moving and wise read. Resonant stuff about not remembering whole important chunks of your exciting expatriate life from 15 years ago, feeling embarrassed by reading third-party accounts of your youthful fumbling, and discovering that a system you already knew to be meticulously evil was worse than you imagined. Reading it in bits over the past few weeks there have been dozens of moments relevant to today's headlines -- questions of who is qualified to judge collaborators, reminders that life under totalitarianism forces every citizen to answer questions that most of us just can't comprehend, and examples galore of how people justify their own cowardice. I loved the little details about the sympathetic and ultimately annoying "sixty-eighters" of Western Europe (who are the source of much of what I don't like about France). And, because it doesn't at all try to, it ends up giving you a tangible taste of several specific eras that no longer exist ... thank God. A good book.

Posted by at June 4, 2003 10:18 PM
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