It is hard, I submit, to loathe bloodshed, including war, more than I do, but it is still harder to exceed my loathing of the very nature of totalitarian states in which massacre is only an administrative detail…Vladimir Nabokov


The playwright Tom Stoppard writes, I was interested by the idea that artists working in a totalitarian dictatorship or tsarist autocracy are secretly and slightly shamefully envied by artists who work in freedom. They have the gratification of intense interest: the authorities want to put them in jail, while there are younger readers for whom what they write is pure oxygen.

While not quite such a dilettante Timothy Garton Ash’s book is certainly written at a safe remove from the Stasi and while it may give us a Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc view that is the common fallacy of most political reporting it has nothing of the authenticity of an Orwell or a Koestler. It is still a worthwhile read but the idea of the demise of totalitarianism with the failure of a bankrupt economic model of a social system is grossly exaggerated.

The file : a personal history New York, Random House, 1997 Timothy Garton Ash Germany (East). Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit Hardcover. 1st. U. S. ed., later printing. 256 p. ; 23 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In 1978 a young Englishman took up residence in Berlin to see what that divided city could teach him about tyranny and freedom. Fifteen years later Timothy Garton Ash – who was by then famous for his reportage of the downfall of communism in Central Europe – returned. This time he had come to look at a file that bore the code-name “Romeo.” The file had been compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police, with the assistance of dozens of informers. And it contained a meticulous record of Garton Ash’s earlier life in Berlin.

In this memoir, Garton Ash describes what it was like to rediscover his younger self through the eyes of the Stasi, and then to go on to confront those who actually informed against him to the secret police. Moving from document to remembrance, from the offices of British intelligence to the living rooms of retired Stasi officers, The File is a personal narrative as gripping, as disquieting, and as morally provocative as any work of George Orwell or Arthur Koestler. And it is all true.

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