Traumatic Memories: David Young’s Stasi Child

stasichildDavid Young’s new series set in 1970s East Germany just about qualifies as historical crime fiction, but the history is so recent that the scars are still prone to reopen and suppurate. Personally, I found this book quite an emotionally draining experience (some things were just too familiar, even though I did not grow up in East Germany but in another Soviet satellite state). But for those who have a sufficient distance from the events, it is a thrilling and entertaining tale. The background feels quite fresh, as it’s not been used too much in crime fiction to date.

Young takes a number of historical facts, such as political prisoners making IKEA furniture in East Germany, repatriation agreements for under-16s between the West and the East, the Stasi turning family members against each other, youth work camps for ‘difficult’ children and escape tunnels to the West, and spins an enthralling and claustrophobic tale out of them. If anything, one might reproach the author with trying to tackle too many of the grim GDR realities at once, throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at this story, a common enough failing with debut authors. He does, however, blend the multiple storylines quite skilfully, and there is no arguing with the sinister atmosphere of paranoia and fear which he creates.

Karin Müller is everywoman – as her name (a very common German name) indicates – a police officer trying to survive in a tough world. She gets roped into a strange investigation into the death of a young girl in the no-man’s land around the Berlin Wall. It appears the youngster was trying to escape from the West to the East – almost unheard of at the time. So why is the Stasi getting involved, are they trying to cover up something? Karin feels increasingly uncomfortable about Jäger – her Stasi superior – and his interference in the investigation, nor is she sure she can trust her partner Tilsner, despite the strong physical attraction she feels for him. Finally, she feels guilty about her husband Gottfried, a good man, a teacher with Western sympathies, from whom she feels more and more estranged. The author does an excellent job of conveying that feeling of helplessness, of not being able to trust anyone, which was a permanent fixture of Communist dictatorships.

Berlin, Germany, 19th November, 1961, East Berlin border guards adding barbed wire to the newly built Berlin Wall, The wall was set up the Soviet army to prevent refugees escaping from the Soviet sector in the East to West Berlin (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Berlin, Germany, 19th November, 1961, East Berlin border guards adding barbed wire to the newly built Berlin Wall, The wall was set up the Soviet army to prevent refugees escaping from the Soviet sector in the East to West Berlin (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

There are some elements which stretch belief here (the tricks which Karin and her team have to resort to at times, the lengths to which she is prepared to go for the sake of the investigation), but overall it’s a cracking little thriller, with a fantastic cover to boot. I’ve also heard it’s been recently optioned for a TV series – and it does sound perfect for that, so here’s hoping it gets made.

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21 thoughts on “Traumatic Memories: David Young’s Stasi Child”

    1. It’s not really a thriller as such (i.e. typical spies double-crossing each other and running away, shooting), more of a police procedural, I would say, but with secret police elements thrown in.

  1. This does sound really intriguing, Marina Sofia, especially the look it gives at ordinary people trying to live their lives in a Stasi atmosphere. I’m not generally one to reach for a thriller, but what seems to set this one apart is its focus on the human – on the individuals involved. And that interests me greatly. I can see, though, how it might be a bit too close for comfort for you.

    1. The focus here is very much on the characters and the atmosphere, rather than non-stop action and other thriller tropes. I would say it’s more of a police procedural, albeit one set in very tricky times.

  2. I think I will get this for my husband …it sound EXACTLY the sort of thing he would love ….having had the luxury of growing up in W Germany . I can understand why it might at times feel to close to home for you . Great review tho

    1. I was just wondering if my friends from former East Germany would love it or hate it … It’s a very entertaining and yet thought-provoking read, with a strong female lead, so you might like it as well!

  3. There’s still a fascination with the whole East German set-up, and I confess I do find books set there intriguing – perhaps my distance from that kind of regime helps. Definitely sounds worth checking out!

    1. I resisted reading Child 44 for a long time because of its depiction of the totalitarian state. That atmosphere of all-pervasive fear and suspicion is hard to forget – but it does make for an excellent backdrop to crime fiction!

    1. Ah, yes, it will bring back some memories… If you do decide to read it, let me know what you thought of it. I did feel at times there was a little too much ‘piling on’ of horrors, for the sake of the story. But that’s fiction rather than reality for you!

  4. You sold it to me! I’ve just read your review and went to Amazon-1-click to my Kindle… yeah, that’s bad. But I enjoyed Child 44 and this one seems right up my alley. I’ll tell you!

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