Six Degrees of Separation: from Stasiland to A Lovely Way to Burn

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.


This month the chain begins with Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder – the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2004. It is a book I have not read but I’m wondering whether I will. It sounds both interesting and shocking.

My first link is Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, a novel about the aftermath of the Nazi era in Europe, and how the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s affected those who once saw Communism as a way forward for society. The question of the black dogs is not really answered though – were they symbolic of evil, or an expression of Churchill’s term for depression, or real creatures?  Part set in Berlin with Bernard, when the Wall came down in 1989 and part set in 1989 at the family house at St Maurice de Navacelles in Languedoc in southern France

There’s another character called Bernard, and also set partly in the Languedoc area in Carcassonne, in The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse. Bernard Joubert, a bookseller had been imprisoned accused of being a traitor and a heretic after he had let slip information about a secret will. It’s a complicated story of war, conspiracies, love, betrayal, forgery, torture and family secrets.

Another book about a bookseller is The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. Peter Byerly is an antiquarian bookseller. His wife has recently died and when he opens an eighteenth-century study on Shakespeare forgeries, he is shocked to find a Victorian portrait strikingly similar to his wife tumble out of its pages. He becomes obsessed with tracking down its origins. it becomes a chase around England, similar to a cross between a Dan Brown novel, an Enid Blyton Famous Five book and a murder mystery.

And that brings me to my next link – Dan Brown’s books. For pure escapism I really like them. They’re not great literature but they are great entertainment, even though they follow the same formula – a breathtaking race against time as Robert Langdon follows  clues as in The Lost Symbol. This book is set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, DC. as Langdon searches for his friend, Peter Solomon, a Mason.

And so to the next link, using the author’s name, Dan, brings me to Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year a novel about one man’s experiences of the year 1665, in which the Great Plague or the bubonic plague – known as the Black Death – struck the city of London.

Thinking about Defoe’s book reminded me of A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, an apocalyptic novel in which a  new and unidentified virus, known as ‘the sweats’ sweeps the globe and London quickly descends into chaos – supermarkets are looted, roads are gridlocked as people try to flee the infection, then society just crumbles as people look out only for themselves, rioting and eventually succumbing to the mysterious illness and dying. Let’s hope the current corona virus pandemic doesn’t descend into this!


My chain began in Berlin and moved to France, then to Britain, America and ended back in Britain. It covered a variety of genres and time periods, including contemporary fiction, historical and crime fiction. The links are through places, words in the titles and authors’ names. And there is also a link that runs through the chain with the use of the letter ‘B’ either in the book titles, in the authors’ names, or in significant words in the descriptions.

Kate writes: ‘Given the current pandemic, the obvious choice for next month (May 2, 2020) is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.’

21 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Stasiland to A Lovely Way to Burn

  1. A very clever chain as ever, Margaret! I’m really interested in what Defoe has to say, actually, as that topic is timely in an unsettling way. And, of course, I hope you have good reading experiences with all of them.

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  2. That’s an interesting chain, Margaret. I agree that Dan Brown’s books are perfect escapism. The final two in your chain both sound fascinating and obviously very relevant, but I don’t think I would be in the right mood for them at the moment!

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  3. That is a very good chain, although some of the books seem depressing. I have had problems reading about Germany before, during and after World War II even though I find that time very interesting. I have wanted to read A Lovely Way to Burn but now I think I will wait awhile.

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    • Tracy, I haven’t read much about Germany, especially after the end of WW2 – I would like to though. Yes, I think it’s as well to leave A Lovely Way to Burn to read later…


    • I’ve read some of Kate Mosse’s books as well as The Burning Chambers – Labyrinth, the first book in her Languedoc Trilogy and a standalone book – The Taxidermist’s Daughter. I think she’s a good storyteller.


  4. Regardless of how interested you are in the history, Stasiland is extremely well-written narrative nonfiction and a rewarding read.

    I have read loads and loads of McEwan but not Black Dogs! Will add it to my list.

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  5. I don’t know that Defoe novel. As for the Louise Welsh… she’s an amazing writer, but I haven’t read her in years… I discovered her in… 2004 when her novella Tamburlaine Must Die was just published, and was an immediate sensation. We were in Edinburgh for the festival at the time, and I went out and bought a copy. I read her Cutting Room after that, but she’s so, So, SO dark… Still… I might give this one a look. (Or maybe I’ll get it for my husband…)

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  6. I always look forward to your chains, Margaret. Like Kate, I love McEwan’s books but have not read Black Dogs, so will hunt that one out. And isn’t it fascinating how we all seem to be both drawn to, and repelled by, books about plagues.

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  7. Thanks, Liz. I enjoyed Black Dogs – it’s a book that gets inside its characters’ minds. Hope you enjoy it if you do read it. Ah, yes it is odd really how we are drawn to and yet repelled by books about plagues. I first read Albert Camus’ book The Plague when I was at school and I still have my copy. I’ve been wondering whether to read it again now – not sure yet.


  8. What an excellent chain. I’m thinking of reading Stasiland too, a recent read by Frederick Forsyth concentrated a bit on his time in East Germany and I found it fascinating. Thus, Black Dogs interests me too. Journal of the Plague Year is an excellent book, very clever the way it reads like non-fiction.

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