the guardian Fri 28 August 2009
The File is Timothy Garton Ash's compelling 1997 excavation of the Stasi and the people who came into contact with it. These include his younger self; for, as a student and journalist living and working in East Germany, he was placed under surveillance and his movements tracked and filed. It opens when he returns in the 1990s to East Berlin to look inside this buff-coloured binder, where he learns his code name ("Romeo"). The rest of the book is a personal and sociological working-through of this information. It includes both interviews with those who informed on him, as he works to "investigate their investigation of me", and attempts to reconstruct his own past (that "tweed-jacketed young man" he only half-remembers). A beautifully organised, thoughtful book, it moves from the personal to the political, analysing how the legacies of Nazism laid the groundwork "for the next round of dictatorship", and contemporary surveillance in the UK.
the observer Sat 18 July 2009
When Timothy Garton Ash spent time living in East Berlin as a young man, he became the subject of the attentions of the Stasi. In 1992, after the fall of the Wall, Garton Ash was able to open the "cardboard time machine" of his Stasi file. The book that resulted is an investigation of an investigation, as Garton Ash tracks down the "unofficial collaborators" who informed on his activities and contrasts his memories and diaries of the time with the contents of his file. This process comes with its own particular dilemmas, but Garton Ash provides an insight into why people felt compelled to inform on their friends and family. First published in 1997, it has been reissued with a new afterword by the author.