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New Books in History
We like to think of countries as permanent fixtures. They aren't. They come and go. In 1989, a place called the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or East Germany, was going. It was never really an "ordinary" place. In the West but also the East; sovereign but not sovereign; German but not German; poor but rich. I could go on. It was the unnatural product of the Cold War, so when the Cold War ended it ended as well. But it didn't just blink out of existence. Not at all. For a brief period–roughly from the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to formal reunification in October 1990–it continued to exist, a country that was alive and dead. Reporter Stevan Allen was lucky enough to be there and he has written an artful book about it–Roaming Ghostland: The Final Days of East Germany. At its center is a wonderful literary device: just as East Germany was passing out of existence, so to was an important phase in Allen's life. The two narratives–that of the "Ossies" and the young journalist–move together, intermingle, and sometimes do battle as Allen tries to get the story and to figure out what he is doing with his life. One of the terrific things about the book is that you get to see the trials of foreign reporting–and its toll on foreign correspondents–from the street itself. Allen pulls no punchs regarding himself or his subjects. He often fails as do they. Sometimes he gets the story, sometimes he doesn't; sometimes the East Germans help him, sometimes they don't. This is not a self-congratulatory tale of unending triumph; it's the story of a man at work, a man living life, a man struggling with himself and his task.
Part personal memoir, part coming-of-age story, part hard-nosed reporting, and part elegy to a youth past, Roaming Ghostland: The Final Days of East Germany will be a welcome treat for journalists, historians, and anyone interested in a good read about places and pasts that no longer exist, save in memory. If you know a young person who is interested in a career as a journalist, this book would make a terrific gift.
20th Century, Berlin, Berlin Wall, Capitalism, Communism, East Germany, Eastern Europe, Erich Honecker, Frontiers, Germany, Hitler, Immigration, Journalism, Marxism, National Identity, Nazis, Newspapers, Socialism, West Germany, World War II
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