Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

All that I have I carry on me.
      Or: All that is mine I carry with me.
      I carried all I had, but it wasn't mine. Everything either came from someone else or wasn't what it was supposed to be. The gramophone box served as a pigskin suitcase. The light overcoat came from my father. The fancy coat with the velvet collar from my grandfather. The knickers from Uncle Edwin. The leather gaiters came from our neighbor Herr Carp, the green woolen gloves from Aunt Fini. Only the burgundy silk scarf and the toilet kit belonged to me, present from the previous Christmas.

I must mention here that Herta Müller is a German-Romanian novelist, poet, essayist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1987, she immigrated to Berlin after suffering repeated threats for refusing to cooperate with Ceaușescu's secret police.

MY REVIEW:

Title: The Hunger Angel
Author: Herta Müller
ISBN: 97808505093018
Publisher: Metropolita Books/2014
Pages: 285

The novel is narrated in the voice of Leo Auberg, a 17-year-old. He is discovering the "forbidding pleasure" of being a gay. He meets men in park pavilions and in the Neptune Baths. If discovered it would land him in prison or a penal colony. But he is sent to a labour camp because his name is in the list as he is of German origin. He is almost glad to be in the list. Before they come to take him away, Leo turns a gramophone case into a suitcase and fills it with after shave, socks, burgundy silk scarf, a poetry book and a book by Faust. What he gets from his grandmother are five words: "I know you'll come back."

Survival is not easy when all one can think about hunger, all the time. The equation is 1 shovel load=1 gram of bread. The anger, anguish and dejection takes over him. He dreams of escape but that is only an illusion. Even when he is free after five years, he is still trapped in the labour camp. One is with Leo yet cannot fathom the depth of despair.

Kati, another inmate of the labour camp is of feeble mind. She does not understand authority or punishment. She is happy in her own world because she does not understand this world. Her portrayal is so touching. Her presence in the camp shouldn't have happened but someone substituted her name for another.

Reading The Hunger Angel, I learnt much about forced-labour camps. I wasn't aware of the fact that Romanians with a German origin were deported to Soviet labour camps. Thousands died in those camps.  Herta Müller says in the afterword that “the deportations were a taboo subject because they recalled Romania’s fascist past.” But she refused to keep quiet about it. She spoke with former deportees and connected with the poet Oskar Pastior who had spent years in a Soviet forced-labour camp. He died but Müller continued with her work from the notes she had made and The Hunger Angel happened. A must read for those who want a slice of history and aren't into easy read.

16 comments:

Pat @ Posting For Now said...

The opening did not grab me. It sounds like a very serious book. I hope you enjoy it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I don't care for that intro, so I'm hoping it improves for your reading pleasure...LOL enjoy

Harvee said...

Sounds like a fascinating book, with a lot of history we can learn about. It's going on my wish list!
Harvee
Book Dilettante

JoAnn said...

Hmm, not sure this one is for me...

Catherine @ Book Club Librarian said...

Thanks for sharing this new-to-me author and title. My Tuesday post: http://www.bookclublibrarian.com/2014/02/first-chapter-first-paragraph-48.html

kelley jensen said...

sounds interesting, but I'd have to be in just the right mood to read it. kelley—the road goes ever ever on

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...


Wow! I must check into this one...I am intrigued. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Yvonne said...

Sounds interesting with alot of potential.

JaneGS said...

Sounds like a really powerful story, and well written. I do like the opening--the notion that everything you have is from someone is interesting, and I'm sure, significant for the story.

Sonia Lal said...

Sounds interesting, but I would have to be in the right mood to read this.

Mine: http://storytreasury.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/3212/

fredamans said...

This sounds like a highly emotional read!

Literary Feline said...

I've been wanting to read this one for awhile now. The subject matter interests me, particularly the time period. I know it won't be an easy read though. Great review, Gautami!

Peggy Farooqi said...

I've put this on my TBR pile straight away. I did wonder whether she is German because of the surname, and wonder whether the books are actually available in German.

Margot said...

I liked the intro. It grabbed me right off and made me think about what I carry around with me. What does that say about a person? Thanks for sharing.

Anna said...

I started this book ages ago, but never went back to it. I'm going to have to give it another try.

jamesreadsbooks.com said...

I read another book by Muller a few years ago called The Appointment. While I was very confused by the narrative style, I enjoyed the book. This one sounds very good to me, too. I'll put it on my list for post TBR Triple Dog Dare reading after April 1.