Frank's Reviews > The Passport

The Passport by Herta Müller
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Jul 12, 2012

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bookshelves: nobel-winners
Read from March 26 to 31, 2012

This was a harsh little story set in Communist Romania amongst the "Swabian" (minority German-speaking) community of the Banat, that region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire divided between Romania and Yugoslavia at the end of the First World War. The main character, a miller, is attempting to bribe his way to a passport—an exit visa—for his wife, his youthful school-teacher daughter and himself. Both he and his wife survived the horrors of WWII (including imprisonment in the Soviet Union as Romania's totalitarian government was allied with the Axis Powers) and their only goal is to get to West Germany. But all the sacks of flour delivered to the local petty official controlling their fate amount to naught as compared with the "personal interview" demanded of this daughter.

The style of writing is equally harsh: a staccato pace totally devoid of ornament which only highlights the dreary sameness and frightening randomness of life under totalitarianism. I was reminded of that other Nobel-winner Elfrieda Jelinek's style, though of course her subject is sexual totalitarianism rather than political. A powerful little book in all its simplicity, but hardly satisfying or pleasant. I guess every once-in-a-while, it's good to have art hit you over the head.
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