After Julia broke up with her boyfriend, she returned to East Germany. She was the summoned to the police, supposedly to have her ID renewed. But when she visited the police, she was sent to a private room to speak with a man known only as “Major N., Minister of State Security.”
As Funder presents it, this passage is almost comical—the sudden, bathetic contrast between the triviality of a teen breakup and the seriousness of a Stasi interview. But Julia wasn’t laughing at the time, of course.
Major N. showed Julia copies of the letters she’d sent her Italian boyfriend, which he proceeded to read aloud. He humiliated her by forcing her to explain every inside joke in the letters. Then he read a long report about the Italian boyfriend, right down to the kind of car he drove. He concluded, “We are interested in your friend,” and added that she would be called back later “for a chat.” Julia explained that she’d just broken up with her boyfriend, and never wanted to see him again. Major N. gave Julia his card and invited her to “reconsider,” emphasizing that Julia must not repeat their conversation to anyone. As Julia tells all of this to Funder in 1996, her voice is slow and low—she admits, “I think I’d totally repressed that entire episode.”
Major N. seems to have been trying to intimidate Julia, bullying her by reading the letters out loud. Or perhaps there was no method to Major N.’s madness, and he just wanted to exploit his power over a defenseless younger person. It’s unclear why the Stasi were so eager to learn about Julia’s Italian boyfriend—he might have actually had a history of “subversion,” or the Stasi might have just been unusually thorough in this case. It’s not specified what Major N. means by “reconsider,” but he clearly wants Julia to cooperate with him in some way, in order to give the Stasi more information about the Italian boyfriend. Notice that Julia brings up the concept of repression, a common reaction among people who’ve endured traumatic experiences. Instead of reliving their trauma again and again, many people unconsciously repress the past and forget about it altogether—until it usually resurfaces eventually, sometimes even decades later.
Back at home, Julia had to decide whether or not to inform on her Italian boyfriend. She decided that she wouldn’t, which left her only one option: marry someone else who lived outside the country. She told her parents about her conversation with Major N., disobeying Major. N’s command. Her parents urged her, a little naively, to write directly to Erich Honecker. The next day, Julia nervously called Major N. and said that she’d told her family about their conversation, and that she intended to write directly to Erich Honecker. Major N., furious, warned Julia that she and her family would be severely punished if she tried to contact Honecker. A week later, Major N. and his superior came to visit the Behrend family. To everyone’s surprise, Major N. tried to convince Julia not to contact Honecker, insisting that they could solve her problem. The very next week, Julia got a call about a job as a receptionist.
Desperate, and with very little left to lose, Julia broke Major N.’s commandments and stood up to Major N., effectively calling his bluff. Clearly, the tactic worked—since, not coincidentally, Julia found work soon after. Perhaps Major N. was concerned about losing his own job, suggesting that even Stasi employees weren’t safe from punishment. This also somewhat echoes Miriam’s experience being tortured—it’s suggested that some of these abusive Stasi authorities were actually breaking the law, and could have been punished if their actions were made known to their higher-ups.
Julia finishes her story and bids Funder goodnight. As Funder sees Julia out, she wonders how this woman, who seems so timid, found the courage to call the Stasi on their bluff. Funder has a feeling that “there is something missing here,” something which Julia “can’t leave, but can’t look at either.”
It’s unclear what Funder means by “something missing.” She seems to sense that Julia isn’t telling her something important about her past—and indeed, Julia will reveal more of her secrets later on in the book. Or, more generally, it could mean that Funder will never fully understand Julia’s experiences, and the pain and uncertainty with which she’s had to live.