The Appointment illustrates once more why Herta Muller is a European writer to be reckoned with. She has, without question, a keen eye and a no-holds-bar understanding of the deadening power that Communism has when it infiltrates into the public consciousness and then rushes down, like a waterfall, into the proceeding generations, for the people must die onto themselves (or at least be helped in that direction) in order to make the government/regime more booming and powerful. The citizens then become shadows of their former selves, and the sweeping negativity becomes a black pall that is draped like a wet blanket.
The story revolves around a nameless female who works in a clothing factory; she sews clothes together and is, in essence, a cog in the Communist regime. Yet, there is a spirited sense of defiance in her make-up. She sews notes into the fabric of the clothing (headed for Italy), notes containing written marriage proposals and the like, an illegal act by any stretch of the socialist imagination. It becomes captured evidence that the Securitate (Ceausescu's secret police) now possess, and with that, they hound her relentlessly, imbuing into her already delicate but fluctuating sense of sanity, doubt and fear. She is trying to prevent the crumbling of her self by conveying a sense of intellectual aloofness and caustic hardness. But her shield of armor is being penetrated. The arrows going through her are not just the repetitious appointments with not-so veiled threats but also the people she encounters on the tram to get to those vile and personally intrusive meetings. The passengers on the tram wear the effects of Communism like one would a form fitting article of clothing. Needless to say, they are a miserable lot of individuals, and the nameless protagonist is working very hard to not fall into their camp, not desiring one iota to become one of them, those people. But as the tram sways and turns with each passing movement, the nameless factory worker is lulled into a series of flashbacks that convey her whole life in a frame of trapped Communist gloominess, most evocative in her first marriage. However, her second marriage (like a second chance in life) is no better. The flashbacks are an additive to the tale, capturing the past which is no better that the present. And that is represented best by Major Albu, the inquisitor who hammers her on and on until she tells him-if only sometimes- what she thinks he wants to hear. But the mind numbing harping evokes thoughts and images of this nature: "Each shoreline was marked by wooden crosses set in the rocks, bearing the dates on which people had drowned. Cemeteries underwater and crosses all around-portents of dangerous times to come. As if all those round lakes were hungary and needed their yearly ration of meat delivered on the dates inscribed. Here no one dived for the dead: the water would snuff out life in an instant, chilling you to the bone in a matter of seconds." Page 17. Sexual gratification seems to play a pivotal role in this novel; it is not lust stemming from love nor is it lust for its own sake. It acts as an elevator from which the consciousness can be lifted out of its own Communist entrapment. A desperate act. Affairs are numerous, and where the married woman are wounded by the betrayal, the men are trying to escape the socialist drudgery that is in fact their lives. But they compound their problems and those of their loved ones with their sexual discretions and in turn, make a big problem even bigger. The women in the novel can not shut their consciousness off like the men, change themselves into non-thinking sexual machines. The character of Lilli is the only one who can play the game as equally as well as the men. And her behavior genuinely highlights the pathetic and sad "rebellion against society" mentality. The female factory work is a witness, though she doesn't want to be one-to the physical and mental tragedies that entomb her morning, afternoon and night, 24/7. It gets to the point where she just gives up and reflects: "Whenever I hear the elevator descending to fetch Albu's henchmen, I can hear his voice quietly in my head: Tuesday at ten sharp, Saturday at ten sharp, Thursday at ten sharp. How often, after closing the door, have I said to Paul: I'm not going there anymore. Paul would hold me in his arms and say: If you don't go, they'll come and fetch you, and then they'll have you for good." Page 212. In a life like hers, it wouldn't surprise me one ounce if she might prefer the watery grave with the sodden wood cross on the surface.
The Appointment was a disturbingly insightful read, a good companion book to The Land of Green Plums. These novels are not "light" reading nor are they particularly joyful in any way, but they do give you pause for thought, about your own government, your own blessings (or not) and your own opportunities (or not): "This can't be all the life I get. The judges' children know as well as Lilli and me that the same sky that looks down on the border guards stretches all the way to italy or Canada, where things are better than here. They demand their good luck [or at least the opportunity to make their own], although not of the border guards. One person pleads with God, the other the empty sky. No matter whom they appeal to, sometimes it ends well [compliancy], and sometimes it ends red as a bed of poppies, or being left behind, alone [defiance]... Page 91. A stellar read.
The Appointment illustrates once more why Herta Muller is a European writer to be reckoned with. She has, without question, a keen eye and a no-holds-bar understanding of the deadening power that Communism has when it infiltrates into the public consciousness and then rushes down, like a waterfall, into the proceeding generations, for the people must die onto themselves (or at least be helped in that direction) in order to make the government/regime more booming and powerful. The citizens then become … more
The Twentieth Century, Herta Müller's and mine! I lived through more of it than she did, but she lived closer to 'ground zero' of social agony. Born in 1953, in Ceaucescu's nightmare police state, she escaped by self-exile to Germany in 1987. Her novels, as many as I've looked at, portray the claustrophobic anxiety of life in the 20th C more excruciatingly than any since Kafka's. I'm somewhat startled to discover that translations of her work into English have been available for at least eleven … more
The hardships and humiliations of Communist Romania are on display in this taut novel by the winner of the European Literature Prize (Müller, author of the well-received Land of Green Plums, emigrated to Berlin after being persecuted by the Romanian secret police). The narrator, an unnamed young dress-factory worker of the post-WWII generation, has been summoned for questioning by the secret police; she has been caught sewing notes into men's suits destined for Italy, with the desperate message "marry me" along with her address. Accused of prostitution in the workplace (and told she is lucky the charge is not treason), she loses her job, and her life becomes subject to the whims of Major Albu, who summons her for random interrogation sessions. Her major preoccupation is holding on to her sanity. This is a nearly impossible feat in a society where opportunity is limited, trust is a commodity as scarce as decent food or shoe leather, and even sinister Party henchmen are shown to be trapped in a ridiculous charade. As she travels to a questioning session, the woman spools out the tale of her past: her attempt to achieve independence after a first marriage, only to hastily fall into a second one with Paul, an alcoholic who fashions illegal television antennas for the black market; and her friendship with the beautiful and doomed Lilli, a fellow factory worker. The sharp generational divide following the war and the dreadful ways in which people learn to cope with the ...