Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sektion 20 - Paul Dowswell

This is a wonderful, compelling young adult novel, portraying life in the former East Germany from the point of view of a teenage boy who is beginning to struggle to deal with all the constraints that that society imposed on the cultural and lifestyle choices of its’ inhabitants. Alex and his sister Geli live in East Berlin in 1972 and are trying to grow and develop their own interests, his in music and hers in photography, but under the restrictive rules of the socialist realist dictates of the DDR rulers. Their parents Frank and Gretchen have tried to live by the rules and adhere to the desired behaviour, being loyal party members. Alex meets Sophie at school, and together they quietly share their disgruntlement at the freedom of thought and expression denied to them in their country, which those in the West enjoy as of right. The less than entirely loyal behaviour exhibited by Alex attracts the attention of the Stasi, the state security services in East Germany. He learns that he must be on his guard, as anyone, anywhere, at any time, could be watching and listening. As the whole family becomes endangered, a thrilling turn of events changes their lives forever. The novel’s title, as explained on the inside cover of the novel, refers to the department within the Stasi that dealt with subversives who indulged in forbidden music, books, television and ideas. There are other stories weaved cleverly within the main one, with Geli worried about the strange changes to her athlete friend Lili’s personality and appearance, and the mysterious background of Stasi man Erich Kohl.

A superbly written and thoroughly researched story, bringing to life the worries, fears, and desires of the average citizien in the former DDR. The reader is transported into that world, where you cannot trust your dearest friend in case they too have been brought under the control of the Stasi and are required to spy and report on you. Where there is a wall that keeps you in, away from the opportunities and choices in the West, and where to try and leave, to attempt escape, means a treacherous disloyalty to your state which could result in your death. Agonizingly Alex and Sophie watch birds flying overhead, going to places they themselves can never freely visit. The author accurately portrays the different aspects of DDR life which meant that some citizens were happy there, in that certain things were well provided for, all were employed and so on, and makes it clear that it is not a black and white issue in comparing East and West. A brilliant novel set in a fascinating place and time, and I am looking forward to reading more by this author.


Visit the author's website to find out more about this and his other work.


  1. WOW! This looks great. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. It is a great read. Thanks for visiting and commenting! :)

  3. Great review Lindsay - it sounds really interesting. How did you come upon it?



Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)