The Hunger Angel

Herta M%C3%BCller, trans. from the German by Philip Boehm. Metropolitan, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9301-8
Müller (The Land of Green Plums), winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, introduces readers to Leo Auberg, a young closeted homosexual German-Romanian who recalls in powerfully vivid vignettes the delirium of the five "skinandbones" years he spent in a Soviet forced labor camp. Charged with "rebuilding" the war-torn Soviet Union, workers struggle under the specter of the figurative "hunger angel" and the work camp's absurd mathematics of misery, which hold that "1 shovel load [of coal] = 1 gram bread." Leo's voice is wry and poetic, and Müller's evocative language makes the abstract concrete as her narrator's sanity is stretched; Leo posits that "Hunger is an object," and that death lives in the hollows of the cheeks as a white hare. Indeed, Leo's grimly surreal meditations on hunger seem all the more true for their strangeness; the cold slag in which he toils smells "a little like lilacs" and his "sweaty neck like honey tea." Juxtaposed with Leo's musings are observations on life in the camp, and brief dramas with other workers. Under Müller's influence, the subject matter not only begs a reader's sympathy, but deftly illuminates the complex psychological state of starvation and displacement, wherein the physical world is reconstituted according to the skewed architecture of oppression and suffering. Boehm's translation preserves the integrity of Müller's gorgeous prose, and Leo's despondent reveries are at once tragic and engrossing. (Apr. 24)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2012
Release date: 04/24/2012
Paperback - 290 pages - 978-1-250-03208-9
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-8050-9546-3
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!