Six degrees of separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Stasiland’ to ‘The Other Side of You’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeIt’s been more than nine months since I participated in Six Degrees of Separation. That’s mainly because the months roll by so quickly that I forget to prepare anything! But now that I am working from home and am cooped up indoors all the time (thanks to the coronavirus lockdown) I need distractions – and this is a good one!

Six Degrees of Separation is a book-themed meme hosted by Kate from booksaremyfavouriteand best (read more about it on her blog here). Every month Kate chooses a particular book as a starting point. The idea is then to create a chain by linking to six other books using common themes.

Here’s this month’s #6Degrees. As ever, click the book titles to read my review of that book in full.

The starting point is:

‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder (2003)
I haven’t read this non-fiction book about life under the Stasi, even though it has been sitting in my TBR for about a decade. I even brought it with me from London when I repatriated last year as I had planned to read it for #20booksofsummer. Alas, I never got around to it. Another book that is about life behind the Berlin Wall is…

The Wall Jumper’ by Peter Schneider (1982)
This classic German novel provides a fascinating glimpse of Berlin life before the wall came down. It follows the lives of a handful of East Berliners who move to the West and is narrated by someone who regularly crosses the border to visit family and friends. It’s fiction but feels very much like reportage. Another novel that feels like reportage is…

‘The Emperor of Lies’ by Steve Sem-Sandberg (2012)
A densely written and meticulously detailed novel, it is based on the factual story of Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski, a 63-year-old Jewish businessman, who was the leader of the Jewish ghetto in Łódź during the Second World War. Rumkowski was a mysterious figure with murky morals: many believed he was a Nazi pawn content to do as the Germans wanted in order to save his own skin and fulfil his quest for power during the Holocaust. Another Holocaust novel is…

‘Sophie’s Choice’ by William Styron (1979)
Set in Brooklyn immediately after the Second World War, this 635-page novel follows a trio of characters living in a boarding house, one of whom is an Auschwitz survivor. This imminently readable but problematic (for me) novel follows what happens to Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish Catholic, after the war — and it isn’t always pretty. Another novel that looks at what happens to an Auschwitz survivor after the war is…

‘This Place Holds No Fear’ by Monika Held (2015)
This extraordinarily beautiful novel looks at the marriage between a German translator and a man 10 years her senior who survived Auschwitz where he had been sent in 1942 because he was a Communist. This is an unusual Holocaust novel because it explores what happens to the survivors afterward — how do they get on with their lives after such unfathomable horror and trauma? Another book about trauma is…

‘Trauma’ by Patrick McGrath (2009)
A Manhattan-based psychiatrist who is still coming to terms with the break-up of his marriage seven years earlier is the star of this short novel. Even though he treats patients who have gone through traumatic events, he seems largely unable to confront his own demons. Another book starring a psychiatrist is…

‘The Other Side of You’ by Salley Vicker (2007)
The relationship between a psychiatrist and his patient, a woman who has attempted suicide, is the focus of this compelling novel. It looks at how trust grows between them over time and shows that even those people who we think are stable and normal are often nursing hidden pain. The moral of the story is that we never really know the people we are closest to and shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from an award-winning non-fiction book about life behind the Iron Curtain to a story about the delicate relationship between a psychiatrist and his patient. They all explore dark subjects but are done with care and sensitivity. Have you read any of these books? 

19 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Stasiland’ to ‘The Other Side of You’”

  1. I’m not a fan of Holocaust fiction, but I wanted to see what you said about Sophie’s Choice. What I would say, without having read it, is that you can’t put those ‘negative points aside’. I would have got to your final para and then written: This is revisionist and sexist, not worth wasting your time on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well yea, but at the time I read it I didn’t realise it was revisionist. It was only when I sat down to do my review and looked up some info on the author that I discovered it had been controversial when it came out. I don’t regret reading it…the story has stayed with me… but yea, it doesn’t hold up well when you read it with contemporary eyes.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. It was a dark chain, wasn’t it. But not unusual for me: I do like dark reads! I’ve never seen the film of Sophie’s Choice and having read the book I’m not sure I’d want to.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The Emperor of Lies was a tough read an I remember finding the book problematic. In my review I say: “The problem I have with a book of this nature is not knowing what is real and what is not. If it is based on fact and historical research — and the appendices suggest Sem-Sandberg has devoted considerable time in this pursuit — why not write a straight non-fiction book so it’s perfectly clear? Why fictionalise something and then write it in such a way — very dry, prosaic and “journalistic” — that it reads like authoritative non-fiction reportage?”

      Thanks for sharing your link.


  2. Apart from Stasiland and Sophie’s Choice (which I read decades ago) I haven’t read any of the books in your chain…and basically want to read them all. I think I’ll start with The Wall Jumper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wall Jumper is a good place to start. If you read my review you will see I was going to read Stasiland back to back with it, but felt I needed a break from East German repression and didn’t carry through with my plan.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read Sophie’s Choice, but I remember seeing the movie when I was 9 or 10 and it made quite an impression on me. And there were lots of tears. For a long time I meant to go back and re-visit it to see how it held up when I was an adult, but I haven’t managed to. Given all I have read about it since, I am not sure I care to, frankly. This Place Holds No Fear is one I would really like to read at some point. Thank you for sharing!

    If you want to read my chain:


    1. Thanks for commenting. I haven’t seen the movie Sophie’s Choice and now having read the book I’m not sure I’d want to… 🤷🏻‍♀️

      I would really recommend This Place Holds No Fear. It’s one of those books that really deserves a wider audience.


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