File: The: A Personal History

Timothy Garton Ash, Author Random House (NY) $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-679-45574-5
After German reunification, the government made public the files of East Germany's dreaded secret police, the Stasi. Any of the countless citizens who had been spied on could fill out a few forms and gain access to the names of those who had informed on them, along with the detailed and often obsessive chronicles of their own lives. Fifteen years after living in East Germany under Stasi surveillance, British historian Ash, who has written four books on the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe (The Polish Revolution), returned to claim his file, and the result is this engaging but scattered book. Various Proustian musings on the nature of memory--""But what a gift to memory is a Stasi file. Far better than a madeleine"" and ""Searching for a lost self, I am also searching for lost time""--fall flat. He is much more successful when recounting efforts to track down old informers and Stasi agents. Visits include a meeting with a one-time friend whom he confronts with her own detailed reports of their past conversations, and with Markus Wolf, the charming ex-chief of the Stasi's foreign intelligence department. The conversational nature of Garton Ash's prose, so irritating during his moments of ""reflection,"" serves him well when he is actually telling his stories. On balance, this is a collection of compelling pieces strung together too hastily. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-679-77785-4
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