This post is going to be a bit different; it’s not about tech, it’s not about security, and it’s not even about health - it’s about books; or more specifically, it’s a book review.
In an attempt to fix some issues with my sleep pattern lately, I’ve been avoiding screen time of an evening - and this has led to me rekindling my love of books. As such, I’ve recently finished two of the best books I think I’ve read in years, books which on the surface may sound similar, but in reality portray entirely different messages.
Stasiland follows Anna Funder, and her journey through ex-GDR territory during the late 90s. An Australian - albeit with an interest in the GDR that began during childhood - Funder enthusiastically recounts her experiences as she interviews those who lived in the GDR, and visits some of the many reminders of the period.
Funder meets a variety of individuals - some who were victims of the brutality of the Stasi, others who simply lived in fear of the vast surveillance apparatus employed by the Stasi, and - most surprisingly - those who had been shadowy Stasi figures themselves.
She manages to paint a picture of a country still divided - one with inequalities, and in many cases a complete lack of trust. With this context in mind though, it serves a testament to the German people and their resilience post-reunification. An impressive feat, and one that’s a complete contrast to the next book.
Despite buying the book predominantly for a glimpse in to the workings of modern Russia and how it’s authorities are capable of operating with total impunity and disregard for the law, Browder’s business experiences in the region - occurring during the initial post-Soviet period - are a fascinating insight in to a time where the entire region was in disarray.
Ultimately though, the book pays homage to the work of Sergei Magnitsky - the auditor who was pivotal in the process of uncovering Russian state corruption. Magnitsky was subsequently imprisoned, denied medical treatment, denied a fair trial, before ultimately being beaten to death. His family - including a young son - were then systematically lied to by the Russian government regarding the circumstances of his death.
In an emotional conclusion, Browder pays respect to the bravery of a man who never broke - and never lied - despite the immense pain, frustrations and humiliation; a man who believed in the law and order, and adored his fellow Russian’s to the point he died trying to uncover the injustices against them.
There are many more lighthearted books on modern Russia - all of which contain their own starting observations - and I can thoroughly recommend the work of Peter Pomerantsev (“Nothing is True, and Everything is Possible), as well as Luke Harding who has written about his time as a journalist working in Russia for The Guardian.