Excerpts from Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Draining Lake (2004), set in contemporary Iceland and in Cold War Leipzig, East Germany. Socialism is the focus, particularly how the ideal of socialism parted ways with the reality of it in post-war eastern bloc countries. In this, the book reminded me of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962), in its disenchantment with communism.
“At the time, the case wasn’t investigated as a criminal matter. Missing persons generally aren’t, because it isn’t considered significant in this country if people disappear. It could be the climate. Or Icelandic apathy. Perhaps we don’t mind having a high suicide rate.”
“He knew that he was still a socialist and that that would not change, but the version of socialism he had seen in Leipzig was not what he wanted. … ‘They watched us. … We knew that and everyone else knew it. It was called interactive surveillance, another term for spying. People were supposed to come forward of their own accord and report anything that offended their socialist principles.’ … ‘I was deported for not being submissive enough. For not wanting to go the whole hog in the spy network they ran and so poetically described as interactive. … That has nothing to do with socialism. It’s the fear of losing power. Which of course they did in the end.'”
“‘It was such a shock. … The whole system. We witnessed absolute dictatorship by the party, fear and repression. … I always felt that the socialism they practiced in East Germany was a kind of sequel to Nazism. This time they were under the Russian heel, of course, but I pretty quickly got the feeling that socialism in East Germany was essentially just another kind of Nazism.”
“‘I don’t think it’s dead. … I think it’s very much alive, but in a different way from what we may have imagined. It’s socialism that makes it bearable for us to live under capitalism.’
“‘You’re still a socialist?’
“‘I always have been. … Socialism bears no relation to the blatant inhumanity that Stalin turned it into or the ridiculous dictatorships that developed across Eastern Europe.'”
“They fell silent, all thinking in their separate ways that the case was beyond their understanding. They were more accustomed to dealing aith simple, Icelandic crimes without mysterious devices or trade attachés who weren’t trade attachés, without foreign embassies or the Cold War, just Icelandic reality: local, uneventful, mundane and infinitely far removed from the battle zones of the world.”