November 28, 2009

Nobel Prize for Literature

Because she won the Nobel Prize for literature I got a book by Merta Muller from the excellent Wellington Public Library called The Appointment. I didn’t enjoy reading it on the whole, but once I had finished I started appreciating it.

First of all I kept thinking of Kafka’s The Trial, though the woman in The Appointment did at least know why she was being interrogated, just not what was being gained by her being interrogated in the way she was. Romania under Ceausescu was clearly grim and bleak, the picture is one of stagnation. The protagonist looks out for chances of happiness. She is being interrogated, on random days, because she put a message saying 'marry me' in pockets of men's shirts going from the factory where she works to Italy.

It was shocking, in the context of New Zealand mores, that she found the fact of her and her friend Lilli having sex with father or step-father to be nothing much. Lilli said, “He never became repulsive to me … but in time he did come to seem ordinary. The fact that we’d be at it as soon as my mother left the house became more of a habit than using the door handle.” I found that shocking.

There is some lovely prose. “When I stepped outside everything was preparing for the night, the sun had already spread itself red across the sky, every shadow in town had lain down.” It’s a translation from the German, so there’s no way for me to know how well it conveys the original.

A friend who has lived in Germany for a long time admires Muller and the way she speaks out since she emigrated from Romania, which she had to do when she refused to spy on her fellow-workers.

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