Stephen Durrant's Reviews > The Passport

The Passport by Herta Müller
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Dec 27, 09

Read in December, 2009

I am never quite sure why novels are retitled as they move from one language to another. The original title of Müller's book is "Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt," which we might translate roughly as "Man is a Large Pheasant in the World." Perhaps a book marketing specialist decided this just would not work in English, although apparently the French publisher was not troubled: "L'homme est un grand faisan sur terre." The problem is that the rather prosaic "The Passport," unlike the original title, gives no hint of the poetic, mystifying quality of Müller's prose. I cannot say that I enjoyed this novel, nor even always understood was precisely was happening, but the hard, staccato prose has moments of great power and has already stirred me to buy the German original and struggle through a few chapters. So what is it about? A German family living in Ceausescu's Romania is desperately trying to get a passport so that they can emigrate to Germany. It is only when the father moves beyond the usual forms of bribery and prostitutes his own daughter that he succeeds. Romania in this novel is portrayed as a pitifully bleak world, as I suppose it was during those years, and Müller exposes its ugliest sides. One must of course read more than one relatively short novel to answer the nagging question, "Yes, Müller's good, but did she deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature?" My current inclination is to say "no," and suggest that Roth, Marais, Murakami, Michon or a number of other contemporary writers are more deserving. But, then again, the selection of Nobel Prize winning authors, year after year, leaves this reader baffled.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Deborahsibbald Sibbald some of the imagery and language is astonishing and beautiful.... but sometimes it felt a bit like reading '' Janet and John ''......

Stephen Durrant Agreed. This is the only Müller novel I've read. Friends say her "The Land of Green Plums" is better. Any opinion? Noticed you list "Bonjour Tristesse," which was published when FSagan was eighteen! Quite amazing.

Deborahsibbald Sibbald me too.. maybe i will try the plums one, what is the original title of that one i wonder !!

i just re read sagan, as i found my mums copy which she kept from when she was young....i read it when i was young ..and its much better that i is '' a certain smile ''...

Deborahsibbald Sibbald i am very annoyed with myself for not speaking several languages

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