I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Hunger Angel

The Hunger Angel

Atemschaukel, by Herta Müller, Carl Hanser Verlag, 304 pp, €19.90, ISBN: 978-3446233911 Ich halte die Balance, die Herzschaufel wird zur Schaukel in meiner Hand, wie die Atemschaukel in der Brust. I hold the balance; the heart-shovel becomes a swing in my hand, like the swing of one’s breath in one’s chest. The title of this extraordinarily powerful and moving novel translates literally as “Breath Swing”, but it is cited in English as “Everything I Possess I Carry with me”, which is the first line of the text. Apparently, it is under this title that the book will appear in English. (The UK/US rights have been acquired by Granta/Metropolitan, who have published other titles of Müller’s.) Herta Müller was born in Romania in 1953; her family belonged to a German-speaking minority known as Banat Germans (Banat is a place), and German is her mother tongue. She was persecuted under Ceausescu for non-cooperation with the regime and left Romania in 1987 and settled in Berlin, where she still lives, making her living as a writer and academic. Most of Müller’s work is concerned with the experience of the German-speaking Transylvanian Saxon minority in Romania, who were subject to cruel persecution by the Russians after World War II, ostensibly in retribution for Nazi war crimes. As the war came to an end, Germans of working age living in Romania were routinely rounded up, deported to labour camps and used as slave labour for the reconstruction of the USSR after the devastation caused by the war. Herta Müller’s own mother, as Müller reveals in the afterword to Atemschaukel, spent five years in a Soviet labour camp, an experience about which she remained silent for the rest of her life. This documentary novel is based on a series of interviews with labour camp survivors, and particularly with a German-Romanian poet, Oskar Pastior, who himself spent five years in a Soviet camp and is clearly the model for Leopold Auberg (Leo), the novel’s protagonist narrator, a seventeen-year-old German-Romanian who is transported to a camp in Ukraine and spends five years there as a forced labourer. The original plan was for Herta Müller and Oskar Pastior to write this book together, but Pastior died before it was written, so Müller wrote it herself. Herta Müller first came to the attention of Irish readers when The Land of Green Plums (originally published as Herztier, literally “Heart Beast”) won the IMPAC award…

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