With The Stasi Child (Minotaur, Aug.), Young launches a mystery series set in 1970s East Germany.
How did you come up with the idea for The Stasi Child?
I’d been a news editor at the BBC for more than 25 years and I was fed up with the job—and they were fed up with me. As a safety valve, I started writing songs and eventually toured Germany with a band about a decade ago. Most of the places that booked us were in the east, and in between gigs I read Anna Funder’s Stasiland. The ghost of the old East Germany was still very apparent in many of the buildings and made a huge impression on me. A few years later, when I was doing a creative writing master’s, we had to come up with ideas for several opening chapters to novels, to illustrate things like characterization, plot, and setting. The one I chose for setting was the opening chapter to Stasi Child. My tutor liked it so much that she encouraged me to abandon my original novel plan and stick with Stasi Child.
What misunderstandings do Westerners have about East Germany?
Many see the communist and capitalist divide in very black-and-white terms—that the former was evil and the latter was wonderful. That’s a simplistic and misguided view. While no one would defend the Stasi and the killings at the wall, there are things about East Germany that some of its former citizens miss—even though most would not want to turn the clock back. Many who grew up there praise the excellent childcare and sense of community, particularly if their families did not fall afoul of the regime.
In what ways did East Germany differ from other police states?
It had one of the highest standards of livings in the Eastern bloc. Prices were controlled, rents were low, so although there were shortages of some things in the shops—bananas were only available once or twice per year—people generally were not short of money. The other main difference is perhaps that its people were German first and communist second.
What has the reception in Germany been?
We’ve had a good response internationally, but the exception is Germany, I’m afraid. The feedback to my agents seems to be that they don’t trust an Englishman writing about a difficult time in their history. But friends have seen German people reading the English version of the book—and it’s even on sale at the Stasi prison museum in Hohenschönhausen. So I’ve not given up hope that eventually a German publisher will pick up the series and make a success of it.