ANNA Funder’s acclaimed first book Stasiland examines the lives of people spied on by East Germany’s secret police, and the minds of those who did the spying. Published in 2003, Stasiland won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Her follow-up, a novel titled All That I Am, unfolds in Germany and London between the wars and centres on a group of anti-Hitler activists. It’s a momentous subject involving historical figures, but Funder’s biggest problem so far has involved proper tea-making methods.
“This novel has been fact-checked out of its mind but most of the arguments have been about food and cocktails,” Funder says with a laugh during an interview at her Sydney home. Funder says she wrote All That I Am as fiction for several reasons, not least because “I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was six”. Also, because we still do not know the truth of some of the events depicted, such as a mysterious double death in London. “I had to solve that in a novelistic way,” she says.
“What interested me more than what really happened is what it felt like, and the novel can do that. I wanted to write what it feels like to be brave, frightened, prescient and doomed.”
In contrast, Stasiland started as a novel but became a work of non-fiction because “fiction could not do it justice”. “When the material is so extreme, and when people are trying to sweep it under the carpet, it would have been a morally inappropriate choice to fictionalise it,” Funder says. She says All That I Am tells a story that repeats itself throughout history. “It’s about people who are willing to risk everything — pit all that they are – to warn against illegitimate government,” she says. “We have just seen, finally, the fall of Gaddafi in Libya: this story could have been set there.”
Anna Funder is a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which runs until September 4, and Brisbane Writers Festival (September 7-11). Geordie Williamson reviews All That I Am, published by Penguin/Hamish Hamilton, in Review in The Weekend Australian tomorrow.
“I mean, whether the characters would have eaten and drunk what I have them eating and drinking. There’s a tea-drinking scene, and the London editor told me such people would not have put the milk in first, so I had to change it.”