Solving a 600-Million-Piece Puzzle

My new novel, The Puzzle People, hasn’t quite hit the shelves yet. But it has hit the webosphere and is now available for download on Kindle, Nook, IBook, and other electronic formats.

But exactly who were the Puzzle People?

My novel was inspired by Anna Funder’s nonfiction book, Stasiland, which devotes a chapter to the puzzlers in Zirndorf, Germany. Stasiland was where I first learned that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the East German secret police–the Stasi–began shredding documents like mad. The Stasi burned through so many shredders that some of them began ripping documents by hand. They shredded roughly 5 percent of the files that the secret police had gathered by spying on their own people since the creation of the Stasi in 1950.

That 5 percent amounted to 16,000 sacks of shredded documents, which were discovered after German reunification. But even more remarkable, the new German government decided to piece the shredded files back together. A small staff of workers in Zirndorf were given the job of sitting in rooms and reassembling the shredded documents–all part of an enormous effort to make the Stasi files available to anyone who wanted to see their own personal file.

It was a monumental task, and Funder’s book estimated that it would take 375 years for the staff of 40 to piece together all of the shredded files. But it could have been worse if the Stasi hadn’t made one major blunder. When they shredded the documents, they didn’t spread the scraps among different sacks. All of the pieces of individual documents went into the same sack, making the job of reconstructing them easier.

The puzzlers, the Stasi, and the Berlin Wall seemed like the ideal ingredients for a mystery/suspense novel. So I have placed The Puzzle People in three time period–1961 (when the Berlin Wall went up), 1989 (when the Berlin Wall came down), and 2003. The scenes in 2003 feature two puzzlers assembling shredded documents and slowly uncovering a murder mystery that takes place in 1961 and 1989. Every other chapter flashes back to those earlier years as the pieces of the novel fall into place.

Today, the shredded Stasi files are being scanned and reassembled by computer, a system that should knock a few hundred years off the task. Check out this link if you’d like to see a five-minute video explaining how the Puzzle People computer system works today.

Speaking of computers, if you like to read your books electronically, I encourage you to get a copy of The Puzzle People. But if you prefer the old-fashioned paper way, the print version of The Puzzle People is due out on March 1.

By Doug Peterson

Buy The Puzzle People


History by the Slice