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Like his suit, his features were bland and unremarkable: neither handsome nor ugly, he had brush-cut hair that was beginning to gray at the temples, and horn-rimmed glasses that cut heavily across his eyebrows.

He didn't need to introduce himself for her to know what he was.

The Stasi were one of the most effective secret police forces in history, responsible for knowing the deeds, words, and – in some cases – thoughts of the East German population under its control. Compared to the KGB, which in 1990 numbered one agent for every 595 Soviet citizens, the Stasi had one agent for every 180 people – which meant they were able to rely on a chilling efficiency in pursuit of their goal to craft a “perfected” surveillance state.

Despite its terrifying reputation, the Stasi was, in many ways, invisible to the average East Berliner: agents would conduct their activities in the proverbial dark, collecting information through surveillance techniques which not only kept tabs on citizens, but also had them questioning their very reality.

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It was a small round of plastic, barely visible but for a slight buckle in the drywall that had pulled the window frame a centimetre or so out of alignment. With the curtains pulled open, the thing was completely concealed, and she frowned, reaching to pull it loose before she thought better of her actions. 

The Stasi were masters of a form of psychological warfare called Zersetzung – a term meaning “decomposition” or “disruption”, which sought to break down political dissidence and sow fear, confusion and paranoia amongst those it deemed enemies of the state. Today, we might call what the Stasi did “gaslighting”, but Zersetzung went so much farther: it was a form of silent repression which included bugging peoples’ phones, sabotaging their homes and possessions, and even conducting in smear campaigns meant to undermine the target’s relationship with friends and families. A target might unexpectedly lose their job; they might stop receiving invitations to their friends’ dinner parties, or their romantic partner might suddenly confront them with evidence that the target, unbeknownst to them, had been cheating.

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Information could be extracted in any manner of ways, and Lise was only too aware of how one single false move could put the entire operation—and everyone who hoped to escape—in peril.

Targets would return home to find that things were exactly as they’d left them – except the brand of tea in the cupboard was different from the one they’d used that very morning, or the cups would all be turned the wrong way round. Zersetzung was insidious, psychologically damaging, and very effective: with their very sanity crumbling around their ears, how could targets have any time for political subversion or escape attempts? 

Rave Reviews for Turnbull's Latest Novel

"Lise and Uli's stories are at once gripping and delicately told as Turnbull expertly pulls at heartstrings, plucking at them one-by-one. I found myself both wanting to race through to the ending, and sitting in each perfectly executed moment. A gorgeous tale set during one of history's most infamous eras."


USA Today bestselling author of The Flight Girls

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