But take one face that appeared in the news last week: the weary, cynical and infinitely creasedcountenance of Egon Krenz, the last boss left shakily standing in the final post-Wall days of the Communist regime. He was off to jail after years of prosecution as one of those responsible, in the heyday of power and the wall, for the killings of would-be jumpers. If a face can be a shrug it is his.
Read the messages signaled from Mr. Krenz's creases: This was the reality. Someone had to run things. Itdidn't delight me. I couldn't help it. Our goals were good. It could have been worse. Once or twice I helped it be a little less worse. I had to think of my family. What I really like is gardening. Yes. I was involved.
Finally: So were all of you.
The miles of archives compiled by the Stasi, or secret police, and since made public, list millions of East Germans as agents, informers,cooperators. The gradations can be as indistinct as the words heard in an insomniac's nightmare: Which is sleep and which waking, which is dreamt, which real? Is that a gun or a glass of water? How much disgrace was it to be listed: a lot, a little, not necessarily any?
Daylight, which ends most nightmares, has prolonged and twisted this one. The Stasi was a brand upon the national soul; disclosure, withits shame and doubts, has been another.
Such is the society of shadows pursued in the 29 sections of "Simple Stories." They are each fragments -- a scene, a conversation -- in the lives of a dozen characters connected with one another directly, or at a remove or two, during the last decade. They could be the text to Mr. Krenz's creases, and to all those others that crisscross life among theOssies, as citizens are called in the eastern part of Germany's disunited unity.
There is Ernst Meurer, whom we meet traveling with his wife, Renate, on a cheap bus tour to Italy in 1990. The wall is down but the Communists still hold porous power; the trip is technically illegal and the travelers carry faked passports procured with only a little wangling.
It is transition time: a few yearsearlier the excursion would have been impossible, and a few years later no artifice would have been needed. Still, though, the Meurers travel in traditional Communist-bloc fashion, packing their own sausage, butter, bread and canned fruit -- a dietary iron curtain against subverting flavors. Peeling an orange is the first daring taste of abroad.
Such unerring detail is just the beginning of Mr.Schulze's design. He will introduce a startling break -- an incident or bit of speech -- that barely hints what is afoot, but will be amplified in a later sketch. Often this is only in part, so we are left with the ominous uncertainties that his characters live among.
The pattern is followed with the Meurers. In Perugia, a fellow tour passenger named Schubert clambers to a church ledge and launchesinto a hysterical denunciation of "Red Meurer." All we get at this point is Renate's reflection: "It had all happened long ago. And Ernst didn't like doing it at the time, I'm sure of that."
It takes two more sketches, scattered among the others, before the full story is told. Meurer -- a mini-Krenz -- had been a school principal and middle-ranking party loyalist. He had denounced Schubert, oneof his teachers, when a suspect remark was found in a student's notebook. Schubert was sent to the coal mines for three years before getting a desk job. Later came democracy and denunciations. After the incident in Italy Meurer is pilloried in the press, loses his post (abandoned by party officials too scared by now to help him) and ends up in a psychiatric institution.
Schubert will have kinky...