Written by Herta Muller
Published by Metropolitan Books
Review by Paula Day
I am embarrassed to say that I had not read anything from Nobel laureate Herta Muller before receiving this book to review. Now that I am familiar with her poetic, haunted style, I will be seeking more of her work.
In The Hunger Angel, Muller’s first novel since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, we met Leo, a young Romanian poet shipped to a Soviet labor camp in 1945. He works for five years in the camp, and he cannot escape the constant heavy labor and the constant hunger that aches him to distraction. Through Leo’s poetic eyes, even a bag of cement becomes the stuff of poetry. Because of his hunger, his life in the camp takes on a hallucinatory quality that adds a haunting sense to the already difficult life Leo is forced to lead. Through this story, we watch the desensitization of a human being, because this is what happens when people are forced to live in such a traumatic way.
Muller is a descriptive writer, and this translation is especially well done. There isn’t the hard, choppy language we see in other translations. This is smooth and poetic and real. I’m always thrilled to read historical fiction that enlightens me about periods in time I wasn’t familiar with, and The Hunger Angel has done that. I was not at all familiar with the Soviet labor camps. It is always important that we remember these times so we can learn from them.
I am very happy to now be introduced to Herta Muller’s poetic prose. I’m looking forward to future work from her.
Paula Day is the Review Editor for The Copperfield Review and the Managing Editor of Copperfield Press. She lives in Los Angeles, California.