Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: "Red Love: The Story of An East German Family" - Maxim Leo

I bought this book some time ago after coming across it by accident on Amazon, you know the idea: "customers who bought this item also bought...." however I have only recently got round to reading it.  Me and my backlogs, eh! (Or should that be book-logs?)

On the surface, "Red Love" is a memoir about life in the German Democratic Republic - or East Germany as it was better known in the West - but it's also a gripping journey through the lives of three generations of his family, and the contrasts between their own lives and the country they lived in.  The defunct system of GDR socialism would be a very easy target for a writer to bash, but Leo chooses not to do so, although he certainly acknowledges the system's failings.

The book provides a gripping account of his grandfather's escape from Germany to France, and his subsequent role in the French resistance. His other grandfather had been a fervent Nazi sympathiser. Yet both eventually became enthusiastic about the new beginnings offered by post-war communism and the creation of the GDR.

The family saga then moves on to Maxim Leo's parents, his idealistic journalist mother Anne and artist father Wolf, and how they dealt with life in the GDR.  Their beliefs and idealism were often at odds with the stifling restrictions they lived under.

In the book Leo describes his family as part of the 'left-wing bourgeoisie' and perhaps they had more opportunities and a better standard of living than your average GDR citizens.  However, they all had something in common: day to day life in the GDR was lived under the hidden cameras and all-seeing-eyes of the Stasi (secret police) and their citizen informants - who could have been your neighbour, your friend, your parents, your children.

Leo writes about his own experiences of growing up in the final decades of a country which quickly disappeared and died after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Leo's own conclusion is that he didn't really have any real feelings about the GDR: "There was neither hatred nor love, neither hope nor disappointment.  Just a kind of numb indifference".

I would recommend this book which takes a very personal look at life from a family perspective before, during, and after the GDR, a country which I have always found fascinating.

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