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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 30 November 2017

"The Passport" by Herta Muller

Muller is the Romanian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2009.

Windisch is a miller in a small village in communist Romania. He is an ethnic German and has applied for passports so that he, his wife, and his daughter can emigrate to Germany. He is leaving behind the community he has lived in all his life. But village life is hard. And it is harder now that Windisch has to bribe the Mayor with sacks of flour and let the priest and the militiaman sleep with his daughter so that they will do the necessary paperwork. 

The book is written in short sections, some seemingly disconnected to the rest of the story, some realistic, some memories and some expressive of the superstitions of the cold country folk. The best way to think of this unusual book is as if each small section is a poem, the paragraphs are verses and the sentences are lines of the poem. Because the prose is so fractured as to only make sense as poetry. Some examples:
  • Windisch closes his eyes. He feels the wall growing on his face. The lime burns his forehead. A stone in the lime opens its mouth. The apple tree trembles. Its leaves are ears. They listen. The apple tree drenches its green apples.” (p 28) 
  • When the snow melted the first time, thin, pointed grass grew in the snow stone hollows. Katharina has sold her winter coat for ten slices of bread. Her stomach was a hedgehog. Every day Katharina picked a bunch of grass. The grass soup was warm and good. The Hedgehog pulled in its spines for a few hours.” (p 74) 
  • Outside the window, the sound of rain. The prayer leader bats her short eyelashes as if the rain was running into her face. As if it was washing away her eyes. Eyelashes which are broken from praying.” (p 46)
  • For seven days the sky burned itself dry. It had wandered to the end of the village. It looked at the river in the valley. The sky drank water. It rained again.” (p 23)
It works when the images conjured are poetic. Otherwise it is rather difficult to read.

The political situation is captured in an altercation between the prayer leader at the funeral and skinny Wilma. The prayer leader says it is raining across the whole country but Wilma disagrees: “Our weather comes from Austria, not from Bucharest.” (p 46)

Other interesting lines:
Windisch feels his temples beating and thinks, 'My head is a clock'.” (p 8)
“'God knows,' says Windisch, 'what they’re for, women'.” (p 10)
Water snakes and trickles under the chairs. It glistens among the shoes.” (p 45)
The music is cold. The big drum sounds dull and wet. Above the village, the roofs are leaning towards the water.” (p 47)
The gypsy girl lifts her skirt. The tractor driver empties his glass. The gypsy girl takes the bank note from the table. She twists the plait around her finger and laughs.” (p 53)
Onion rings float on eyes of fat in the pot.” (p 58)
Her heels are full of cuts.” (p 62)
A strip of tin foil falls out of Amalie's handbag onto the carpet. It is full of round white warts.” (It is the pill)
It pushes crooked furrows like partings through his hair.” (p 71)
Your understanding is tiny ... it doesn't even stretch from your forehead down to your mouth.” (p 79)

It captures the hopelessness of old people in a dying village and the shabbiness of corruption. It captures the everyday sex of the poor people. There is no romance. But it feels so real!

November 2017; 92 pages






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