Six Degrees of Separation – From Funder to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Stasiland by Anna Funder. I haven’t read this non-fiction book, but here’s what Goodreads tells me…

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany…

Sounds rather good and has a zillion glowing reviews. Hmm, one for the wishlist, I think!

East Germany of course was communist before the fall of the Wall, and that leads me to my first book…

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth. The story of Ira Ringold, a Jewish-American radio star who, at the height of his stardom marries Eve Frame, once a Hollywood starlet and now also a radio star. The marriage is disastrous and, when Ira finally leaves her, Eve publishes a memoir in which she claims he is a communist taking orders from the Kremlin and betraying America. In the McCarthy era, this accusation alone is enough to destroy Ira’s career. The second book of Roth’s wonderful American Trilogy.

America’s not too keen on communism, but the country in my next book would claim to have made communism work…

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong. The first in the long-running Inspector Chen series, this tells of the murder of a young woman who was a model worker under the Communist regime. The author’s depiction of Shanghai and the lives of the people there in the 1990s is fascinating and detailed, describing food, clothing, customs and the rapidly changing face of Chinese life at a point where capitalism was beginning to be encouraged after years of strict communism, but where the state still had a stranglehold on every aspect of life.

China can’t claim to be the first communist state, though – that honour belongs to the country in my next book…

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus. A book that takes us from one death-bed – Tolstoy’s – to another – Lenin’s, and along the way tells us of the early development of the propaganda methods used by Lenin and Stalin. Told with all of Kalfus’ sparkling storytelling skills, this has a great mix of light and shade – the underlying darkness leavened by occasional humour and some mild but deliciously macabre horror around the death-bed and embalming scenes.

Communism may have failed fairly spectacularly in Russia but that doesn’t stop revolutionaries attempting to impose it in other countries from time to time, like the country in my next book…

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti. Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s, following the failed revolution there. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. This is a beautifully written book and profoundly moving. Although it’s based around the revolutions of South America, it is not about politics as such; rather, it is about the impact that political upheaval has on the individuals caught up in it. It’s about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging. It’s about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair.

The communists may not have been able to hang on to power in Uruguay, but unfortunately they have a stranglehold in the country in my next book…

The Accusation by Bandi. This is a collection of seven short stories written between 1989 and 1995 under the regimes of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea, and smuggled out of the country to be published in the West. The stories are strongly polemical, as would be expected under the circumstances, and highly critical of the dehumanisation under the regime, where every aspect of people’s lives and even thoughts are dictated and controlled through fear, and truth is manipulated in true Orwellian fashion.

One day, hopefully, the 38th Parallel will no longer form a divide between North and South, and Korea will be united again as one free democratic state. Which brings me back to Berlin…

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré. The classic that changed the tone of spy thrillers – a bleak, cold portrayal of the work of spies far removed from the glamour of James Bond and his like, as world weary British spymaster Leamas takes on his East German counterparts. Le Carré shows a moral equivalence between the agents on both sides of the wall rather than the good Brits/evil enemies portrayal that was more standard in fiction before his time. Both sides are shown as using methods that are murky at best and the question that underpins it is the old one of whether the ends justify the means.

* * * * *

So from Funder to le Carré via communism, communism, communism, communism, communism and communism!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

34 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Funder to…

  1. That’s really clever, FictionFan, to use communism as the thread that links those books. It’s had a life in several forms and places, and it’s really interesting how it’s depicted in different books. You’ve reminded me that, at some point, I want to read D.B. John’s Star of the North, which looks at North Korea. I’ve read mixed reviews of that one, but it does interest me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha, I must say it worried me to discover how many books I’ve read about communism over the last few years – I had to leave out as many as I put in! I’ll be calling everyone comrade soon… 😉 I haven’t come across Star of the North but it looks very interesting from the blurb. One for the wishlist! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, my chains keep turning into themes these days – must get out of that habit! But I was a bit gobsmacked to discover how many books about communism I seem to have read over the last few years, comrade… 😉


    • I loved the Roth, though American Pastoral is still my personal favourite. I’m looking forward to re-reading The Human Stain once I get my reading mojo back….


  2. I find I’m not particularly drawn to any of these books, FF, but I do admire your interesting chain. I guess my reading for the time being is going to have to be lighter; there’s enough heaviness in the air as it is!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I don’t know that any of these would be my choice at the moment either – too dark, most of them. But usually I love a political edge to my reading as you know, and communism has inspired so many fascinating stories… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I enjoyed Death of a Red Heroine a lot. The author lived in Shanghai until Tiananmen, and I thought he made a good decision to set the books back a couple of decades in time, so that he was writing about the period he knew from personal experience. The detail of life was more interesting than the mystery, in fact…


    • Glad you enjoyed it! Ha! Next month starts with The Road, and I’m not at all sure I want to do a chain starting with a devastating apocalypse right at this moment – but we’ll see! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since I read a few non-fiction spy books last year, I find myself overly fascinated with communism, and living under modern day communism-what is it truly like? Have you heard of the book Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982? There’s big buzz about it…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great chain, and it would certainly be interesting to trace the history of Comunism through literature. I’m especially intrigued by Springtime in a Broken Mirror for when I’m up to reading things with a bit more of a punch again, so I might try and see whether it is available.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think it was when I was doing my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge that I started to find communism in literature so fascinating – it has inspired some truly great books. Springtime in a Broken Mirror is a wonderful book – so emotionally profound and the translation really captures the beauty of the writing. I do hope you can get hold of it… 😀


    • The Accusation was really interesting – not brilliantly written, but fascinating to get an insider account. Haha – I’m a bit worried about how much of my reading over the last few years seems to have been about communism – I’ll be calling everyone comrade soon! 😉


  5. A great chain! I enjoyed reading Springtime too after your review, it is a richly described story of another place and time. The Roth is on my list and I’d forgotten I had meant to read something from Kalfus some years back. I don’t know why I didn’t put The Accusation on my list when you first reviewed it, that’s rectified. So quite a few hooks for me this time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I am glad you enjoyed Springtime! One of the many books I only picked to fill a slot on the Around the World challenge and ended up loving, which is why I’ve enjoyed that challenge so much. Kalfus is wonderful – he could write about anything and I’d love it, and he’s fascinating when he writes about Russia since he lived there for several years and really understands it. The Roth is great too, and The Accusation, while not in the same class in terms of writing quality, is fascinating for the insider view of the North Korean regime. Something about communism seems to inspire writers to write great books… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah yes, it has been a while since I did 6 degrees, I really should get back to that. Great chain and impressive that you could do the whole chain about communism. I remember your review of Death of a Red Heroine, it’s still tempting!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Death of a Red Heroine was very good – well worth reading! Ha – I was a bit horrified to discover how many books about communism I seem to have read over the last few years… doing the Reading the Russian Revolution challenge must have brainwashed me… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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