The Passport by Herta Muller

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The Passport by Herta Muller

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A miller tries to leave his village for a greater life elsewhere, in this poetic short piece, which ultimately is too dense and fractured to be recommended to many.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 96 Date: March 1989
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1852421397

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Meet Windisch. A miller in a small village, he trudges through there, and through his neighbours, and through his life, counting his days and hours, for reasons that are not initially clear. But he does want something - he is waiting for a passport so he can leave for other climes. The perks of his job are the bags of flour he leaves by the mayor's house with regularity, as an open bribe, but there might be a bigger sacrifice to have to make.

The village life is one of the strong points of this book, and with the opinions and the earthy habits of some of the inhabitants and the fact that many people are only known to us by their job and not their name, we see it as quite timeless and ageless. Only if we read on (or the cover blurb) do we find with more assurance where we are, and what Windisch and the people he knows may be living through.

The writing is very stylised, and literary. The story is told through different episodic chapters, and within them each paragraph is a beat of time, each sentence within them a smaller beat. It works as a sort of fractal look at the world, but with her artistic head on Herta Muller has not worried too much about concise, exact clarity. You have to read this book at a lot slower pace than normal to pick out the many instances of flashback, and the multilayered story builds and adds to more of a poetic, impressionist experience.

However with the density of that and the short, slender story fractured in such a way, I didn't fully engage with the tale. I can see the point of this book with great clarity - the oppressed rural villager, living with superstitious neighbours, and living against the bureaucracy that forms his greatest links with life elsewhere - and I can see why such writings appealed to the Nobel Literature Prize committee who awarded her the gong in 2009. This seems a very representative look at this author, and her own ethnic background.

But beyond the novelty of such a piece coming honestly from an unheard mouth, this reads as an unmemorable slice of rustic ennui and quiet complaint from its inhabitants. Others might engage more fully with the twisting puzzle of the narrative and the problems facing the family of our hero, but I don't suspect many will find themselves completely entertained.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

It doesn't share much in the way of style, but those who enjoyed this might find some parallels and contrasts with We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Buy The Passport by Herta Muller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Passport by Herta Muller at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Passport by Herta Muller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Passport by Herta Muller at Amazon.com.


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