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The Passport (Masks)

A book by Herta Müller

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A grim and ponderous depiction of Romanian life under the scary dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

  • May 6, 2013
  • by
Rating:
+5
The Passport is a novella consisting of only 93 pages with the primary focus being on the Banat region of Romania and the Swabians in particular, the German speaking minority residents who occupy that territory in Romania. They are a people like the Armenians, who suffer incessantly and are folks who always get the raw end of the deal, historically speaking and otherwise. The story revolves around Windisch, the village miller, his wife as well as his virginal daughter Amalie, a school teacher. Surrounding them in their provincial Romanian village is an assortment of rough-edged characters who clasp onto superstition and mutual economic day-to day needs; their common bond is also their suffering as well as their increasing deprivations to a productive livelihood. Being enticed away from their homeland by the progress of the West (Germany, that is), Windish has hopes of securing passports for him and his family. But to obtain them, he offers bribes of flour to those men on the upper tiers of the political spectrum. In the eyes of those in power, it is a laughable gift offering as well as a disrespectful insult for the offices they hold. They are crude and crass in their desires and yearn for something a lot more sacred and personal. It is that desire that turns The Passport from literature to literary horror story. There are a lot of approaches that one can have towards despondency, and as a reader, you're always hoping fro the character to take the right approach or maybe not depending on your own personal circumstances, for literature is often validating for people. In his case, where flour offerings are not sufficient to buy his and his family's freedom, Windish is the lone wolf where his daughter's free will is concerned; she must hawk herself like a piece of used wares, for only that is a suitable offering. She submits and does so with free abandon, weaving her web that entangles not only the village priest but also a militiaman, among others. It becomes a manifestation of the past merging with the present and thus creating an all-too horrific reality. The quenching of lust by its own right is a kind of uninhibited breakaway from the repressive police state that they're all living in. In a way, it is like an explosion of lustful individuality that cannot be contained or ruled over by socialist and totalitarian decrees. Sex becomes the act of liberty and is a personal weapon of dominance. Because Amelia allows herself to become a sexual chattel for a greater good, she still has to reduce herself to gutter trash, and many others follow suit. Her own mother is a historical example. Amelia is in an appalling entanglement, though she may not see it. But her father does. In times of utter desperation, it is amazing the actions that people will follow through on. For Windish and his family, their country is evolving into a living hell and the once good people in their lives are changing into minions of that hell, not to be too hyperbolic. Perhaps Amelia's and Windish's questionable deeds are the lesser of the two evils, but that is for the reader to decide. It is either this action or one like this taught in the Romanian school system: "Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu is the father of our country. And just as the mother in the house in which we live is our mother, so Comrade Elena Ceausescu is the mother of our country. Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu is the father of all children. And Comrade Elena Ceausescu is the mother of all the children. All the children love comrade Nicolae and comrade Elena, because they are their parents." Page 51. The laws the two of them put forth were anything but loving! Page 74 titled "Grass Soup" was really compelling, for it is almost a warped play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears but for survival mode. The Passport was a gut-wrenching read that evoked in clear and sparse language mental torture and desperation unseen and experienced in anything I've ever witnessed. It is a difficult read, one that requires rereading in order to fully flesh out all the nuances of what Muller is trying to convey. I think I only got the gist, if even that. It was a disturbingly good read that recalls writers like Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft and Gabriel Garcia Marques (my opinion).
A grim and ponderous depiction of Romanian life under the scary dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

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More The Passport (Masks) reviews
review by . June 25, 2010
The Passport is a novella consisting of only 93 pages with the primary focus being on the Banat region of Romania and the Swabians in particular, the German speaking minority residents who occupy that territory in Romania. They are a people like the Armenians, who suffer incessantly and are folks who always get the raw end of the deal, historically speaking and otherwise. The story revolves around Windisch, the village miller, his wife as well as his virginal daughter Amalie, a school teacher. Surrounding …
review by . December 08, 2009
... hundreds of small watercolors by the German Expressionist Emil Nolde, fill a small museum of their own in Berlin, near the Gendarmes' Market in the former East sector. Nolde was himself an anti-Semite and Nazi supporter in the 1920s, but because his paintings were classed by Hitler as "decadent art', he was ordered to refrain from painting of any sort during the years of World War 2. He disobeyed, hiding his watercolors successfully until the end of the war, painting daily in his remote home …
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This English-language debut by a Romanian-born West Berliner is remarkable for its stylistic purity. Muller's angry tale of an ethnic German anxious to emigrate from his stultifying Romanian village is relayed in deceptively straightforward sentences ("Katharina had sold her winter coat for ten slices of bread. Her stomach was a hedgehog. Every day Katharina picked a bunch of grass. The grass soup was warm and good") that pile up in striking patterns (later, "the second snow came. . . . The hedgehog stabbed"). Intently focused prose animates the parochial town with its corrupt power brokers, gamey folk songs and a tree reputed to have eaten its own apples, as well as the problematic relations among the central character, his embittered wife and their nubile daughter, who, like her mother before her during the war, is forced to grant sexual favors to men of privilege.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 1852421398
ISBN-13: 978-1852421397
Author: Herta Müller
Publisher: Serpent's Tail

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