The File: A Personal History

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9780002558235: The File: A Personal History

In 1991, after the Wall came down and the archives of Eastern Europe opened up, Timothy Garton Ash walked into the building that housed the files of the Stasi, the infamous East German secret police and asked if there was a file on him. There was - a thick one. In this work Ash describes what was in the file, and the avenues personal, political and historical, which he was led down by it. The book begins autobiographically, but opens out to show how Ash tracked down and confronted those who once pursued and monitored him. He shows how it is impossible to establish the "truth" of history and how the way we act depends overwhelmingly upon the circumstances in which we are placed.

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Review:

When Timothy Garton Ash graduated from Oxford in 1978, he went to live in Berlin, ostensibly to research and write about Nazism. But once there, he gradually immersed himself in a study of the repressive political culture of East Germany. As if to return the favor, that culture--in the form of the dreaded East German secret police, the "Stasi"--secretly began studying him. As was Stasi's practice, over the years its study produced a considerable paper trail. After the fall of the East German communist regime, a government apparatus was established to allow those targeted to see their Stasi files, and Garton Ash discovered and pored over his. He then set about to interview the people who made this gross intrusion possible, the several case officers, and the numerous regular-citizen informers. The result is nothing short of a journey into the darkest recesses of the totalitarian mind, taking its place honorably alongside 1984 and Darkness at Noon.

From the Inside Flap:

"An invaluable document for our time, bravely and beautifully written. A chilling portrait of treachery and compromise that will not let me go."  
--John le Carré

In 1978, fresh out of Oxford, Timothy Garton Ash set out for Berlin to see what he could learn from the divided city about freedom and despotism. As he moved from west to east--from Berlin glamour to Berlin danger--the East German secret police, the so-called Stasi, was compiling a secret file on his activities, monitoring his Berlin days and nights and tracking his growing involvement with the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Fifteen years later, with the Wall torn down and Berlin now unified, Garton Ash visited Stasi headquarters to find his file. The thick dossier he was given forms the basis for this real-life thriller in which he traces and confronts the German friends and acquaintances who informed on him, and the officers who hired them. Behind Stasi reports of suspicious meetings we discover the love affairs, friendships, and formative intellectual encounters that actually occurred. And behind a baffling web of lies, half-truths, and forgotten stories we find a forty-year-old man spying on his younger self.

"Amid the ghost of secret Germany,"  he writes, "I was searching for the answer to a personal question: What is it that makes one person a resistance fighter and another the faithful servant of a dictatorship--this man a Stauffenberg, that a Speer?"  And he forces us to ask: Which would I be?

The File reads like a brilliant work of fiction by Graham Greene or George Orwell--but every word is true.

"The File is by far the wisest and most penetrating study of a communist informer society ever written by an outsider. "
--Neal Ascherson, The Independent

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Timothy Garton Ash
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (1997)
ISBN 10: 0002558238 ISBN 13: 9780002558235
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
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(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 1997. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0002558238

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