Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Passport-Herta Muller

The Passport
Herta Muller
Serpent’s Tail, Nov 2009, $12.95
ISBN: 9781852421397

During the brutal reign of Ceausescu, Windisch wants out of his German village in Romania. In fact he wants out of the country that feels everywhere in his mind as the end instead of a beginning or even a middle. The coffin with the Widow Kroner’s name on it symbolizes how he feels as the box remains empty waiting for her to die. Last year to gain a passport to go to West Berlin, he tried bribing the mayor with sacks of flour, but that only left him hungry. The village miller has tried using his daughter and his bitter wife, but so far has been rejected for the passport he needs to go to the west. Amalie with her crystal vase and Katharina who survived five Russian winters by selling her coat and more to make grass soup struggle in the village where women survive by sexual favors to the male elite.

This is a translation of a 1980s indictment of Ceausescu and the Communists who destroyed Romania economically and morally. To survive under the reign even in a tiny remote village, one had to bribe the leaders with whatever one had to include a pretty daughter. The cast makes the tale work while the stark grim brusque writing will stun the audience with its deep message that tyranny at any level destroys.

Harriet Klausner