Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Appointment by Herta Müller

As my faithful readers know, I always read the major prize-winners when announced. As is the case with most recent Nobel Prize awardees, I had never heard of Herta Müller. At first I thought, well yes, Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Soviet Union – secret police, long lines and empty shelves, spying neighbors, frequent and seemingly pointless interrogations to root out dissatisfied citizens – I had heard, seen, and read this plot many times.

The difference with Müller’s take on this story involves, lyrical, graceful, simple prose that lulls the reader into a false sense of “been-there, done-that.” I nearly gave up several times and even had to struggle to get through the last 40 pages as the descriptions became more detailed, more bizarre, and the mind of the un-named narrator becomes more and more disjointed. Then I read the last line: “The trick is not to go mad.”

So, like Kafka, and Lu Hsun’s “Diary of a Madman,” Müller’s novel relates the descent into madness as a result of paranoia of a dictatorship run wild with maintaining absolute power and control over its citizens. How close we came to that precipice! The novel is a warning. Unbridled police powers will inevitably lead to abuse and oppression.

With that last line – almost a Joycean epiphany – the novel made sense. It became harrowing, exasperating, and I understood completely how madness did result. 5 stars.

--Chiron, 12/31/09

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