The Passport – by Herta Muller

The Passport by the Nobel prize winning author Herta Muller is only 92 pages long but it’s quite a journey! Her writing is very different. She wrote short sentences; each chapter is very short, only a page or two long, and has its own title, but the images are powerful, surreal and culturally superstitious.

The chapters are connected to tell the story of a village miller who lived with his wife and a daughter in a German minority region in Romania. He applied for a passport to emigrate to West Germany and bribed the village official with sacks of flour but it didn’t work out, until he sent his daughter to sleep with the village officials. Interwoven in this story are random flashbacks of the hard life these German minorities had in labor camps in the Soviet Union where they were forced to go after WWII (this is the main theme in her other novel The Hunger Angel which I’m currently reading).

Growing up under the communist regime myself, I saw in The Passport again the authority’s confiscation of people’s properties, the bribery to the officials to get things done (or not) and to survive, and the extremely poor life people suffered under the totalitarian.

Muller’s short prose and surrealist images made this novel a strange one. Some of the chapters seem sporadic and not connected at all, which require some patience to read thru. But all in all the novella is culturally and historically rich. It’s worth the effort.

The Passport was published in German in 1986, and in English in 1989.

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