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Friday, 18 November 2011

Guest Review: Sektion 20 by Paul Dowswell

Title: Sektion 20
Author: Paul Dowswell
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 5 Sep 2011

Synopsis from Amazon

Alex lives in East Berlin. The cold war is raging and he and his family are forbidden to leave. But the longer he stays the more danger he is in. Alex is no longer pretending to be a model East German, and the Stasi has noticed. They are watching him. Alex is told that further education will be blocked to him. His summer job is mysteriously cancelled, and friends begin avoiding him. His parents start to realise that leaving the East may be the only option left to them, but getting across the Wall is practically impossible. And even if Alex and his family make it to the other side, will they be able to escape the reach of the Stasi? This is a tense, page-turning thriller that builds towards a terrifying showdown as powerful forces from the East and West converge. One false move will change everything for Alex and his family, for ever.


When I received this novel in my last haul from Emma, I have to say the cover didn’t impress me. It looked like it was going to be action-packed and adventurous which is not my usual style. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sektion 20 is far and beyond one of the best accounts of post-War Eastern-Bloc Germany I have ever read and I’ve studied German History at degree level. This story worked perfectly, clearly showed how lift in the Communist East was far from the idyll that they portrayed it to be and Dowswell is really accomplished in his style and choice of language for all characters.

Sektion 20 is mainly the story of Alex Ostermann who has lived in East Berlin his whole life but is far from the model Socialist citizen. In fact, Alex idolises the West, loves Rock Music and Western fashion and this has caused suspicion and attracted the attention of the Stasi. Alex knows he needs to outwardly appear like the model Socialist; he finds it near impossible but knows if he can’t keep up the fa├žade his whole family will be at risk.

Alex sees his friends disappear and soon his family feel the Stasi closing in on their home. Dowswell builds the suspense and small things, such as missing underwear are noticed and Alex’s family know they need to take action and despite his parents being model citizens and faultless party members, they realise their children are at risk. This means a big change has to happen.

Sektion 20 is a brilliantly written, suspense-filled novel which shows how suffocating Eastern Bloc life could be for its younger citizens and how terrifying this apparently free Communist state had become by the time Alex was a teenager. Really eye opening and enjoyable, would love to read other works by Dowswell.

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